Posts Tagged ‘Shoegaze’

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Beach House – White Moon / Mathemagic and Young Prisms

August 24, 2010

Check out this lovely new Beach House joint from their iTunes Sessions EP.

Beach House

Also, check out possibly the best post yet on Altered Zones, two new songs from Mathemagic and Young Prisms on their new split 7″. The Mathemagic side is a shimmering electronic pop song, maybe in the realm of chillwave. The Young Prisms side is a woozy, reverb-laden ballad. Both are dreamy and excellent.

Mathemagic/Young Prisms Split 7"

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Three DC Concerts: Beach House, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Gang Gang Dance

April 2, 2010

DC just had its arguably busiest week in concerts of the season. The city had shows from the likes of Beach House, Dum Dum Girls, Real Estate, Deerhunter, Spoon, Gang Gang Dance, The xx, A Sunny Day in Glasgow and jj. I personally hit up three shows in a five day period: Beach House, A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Gang Gang Dance.

Beach House at the Black Cat on Friday might have been the most hyped concert of the week for one of the most hyped bands of the year. They quite easily sold out the Black Cat and packed the Main Stage room full of eager fans. The precious Bachelorette opened, who got a fair bit of audience response, probably due in part to her quiet, cutesy New Zealandic accent. Her set mostly consisted of cleverly looped vocals, guitar strums, and drum machines that made for a well received whole. When Beach House stormed the stage, the crowd couldn’t have been happier, frequently letting loose “we love you Victoria!”s and other such words of praise. The band’s set was decent sized and was delivered as well as received with great enthusiasm. Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scalley actually move around on stage and have more energy than their slow, syrupy music might suggest. They played all but one song from their new album Teen Dream (sadly giving arguably the album’s best song, “Real Love,” the shaft) as well as a couple older numbers, even stretching back to their 2006 self-titled debut for “Master of None.” The encore was just perfect. They first played a crowd favorite from 2008’s sophomore album Devotion, “Astronaut,” and clinched the show with a spirited rendition of “10 Mile Stereo.” Although seeing Beach House live doesn’t differ much from  hearing them on an album, it stands that doing both is a breathtaking emotional experience, and I would say that just about everyone at the Black Cat on Friday had a great time.

Beach House

A Sunny Day in Glasgow played on Sunday at DC9, which might take the cake as DC’s smallest regular concert venue, but it is also one of its most rewarding. Its acoustics are nice and its setup puts the audience just feet away from the performers. We walked in a little late to just catch Phil and the Osophers play an enjoyable, playful pop set that felt similar to the likes of Vampire Weekend. Although it was a fairly innocuous set, I admit to wanting to hear more from the band, and I hope they had a good time at SXSW where they played just last week. When A Sunny Day in Glasgow got started, their set was unstoppable. Their live presence is something to be reckoned with, six band members on stage all doing different things for every song (a favorite moment was when Ben Daniels broke out an electric mandolin). The group focuses their powers around vocalists Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma, who harmonize the songs’ airy vocals to lovely effect. Most of the songs they played sounded better than the studio versions, which were already superb (recall my naming Ashes Grammar one of the best albums of this past decade). They played through new favorites like “White Witch,” “Failure” and “Passionate Introverts” with lovely vitality. The biggest disappointment of the show was the lack of an encore; they played through a rather short set and could have easily extended it to better please the crowd, but that was about their only shortcoming. They will surely have my ticket sale the next time they come to town.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow

The wait for Gang Gang Dance at the Rock ‘n Roll Hotel on Tuesday was long, and opening act High Life only made it feel longer. His high pitched squeals over noisy effects loops were maybe an appropriate way to ease the audience into Gang Gang Dance’s set, but it was still hardly appreciated except by a select few near the stage. He later made up for the set by acting as Gang Gang Dance’s much needed bass player, who gave the main band’s music the strong under-melody it needed. This was particularly important because Gang Gang Dance played so loud that it was sometimes difficult to hear what one was hearing, and a strong sense of melody as well as rhythm was needed to make sense of the raucous din. This situation could have been disastrous if the acoustics were different and the sound was too noisy, but Gang Gang narrowly hit a bullseye mark that got most of the audience nodding and bobbing in a narcotic haze. All of the songs they played were new, some melodic and most all featuring beats and melodies that sound like they come straight from Saudi Arabia or India. The only tune I recognized was the shimmering “Crystals,” which featured steel drum sound effects and twinkling synthesizers. We can hope that this song, as well as the others we heard that night, will make it onto Gang Gang’s next proper studio LP. Overall I’d say the venue housed a great amount of satisfied customers, considering the band surprisingly almost packed the house. But we need to remember that Gang Gang are a noise band, and though their noise is beautiful, it is still willfully cacophonous, and should be judged appropriately.

Gang Gang Dance

Overall, I had a really awesome time at all of these shows. Conclusion: DC has a lot of great shows, some of which are highly attended and some that aren’t, and if you pick and choose well enough, you can get more than your money’s worth for a night, or week, of fun.

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My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

February 14, 2010

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

It’s tough to talk about this one, not because it seems as if everything that can be said about it has been said, but because there are always new things to say about it. I’m honestly always throwing different adjectives at Loveless. None of them hit the mark. None of them even come close.

Yeah, it doesn’t help people who haven’t heard Loveless when I tell them “look, you just kind of have to listen to it.” And sometimes, “you just have to stick with it.” But there come points of understanding with Loveless where you don’t really have words and then you sort of fathom why it’s so difficult to put into concrete terms.

Sure, My Bloody Valentine “got it” with some of their mid-career EPs. You could hear they knew what they wanted to be, and with You Made Me Realize and Isn’t Anything they locked in and made their ideals secondary, crafting classics of the era. Still, they were getting closer to something. But listening to Loveless after Isn’t Anything or even Glider is still a bizarre departure. The leap in style and composition is jarring, and even though Loveless is a sensible next step, it still sounds like a whole slew of material was skipped on the way to it.

And really, it’s not a stretch at all to say nothing sounds like Loveless. God knows enough people have tried to emulate it; Loveless skyrocketed the sub-genre of shoegaze into the indie stratosphere and people tried to shadow its style for, now, decades. And yet I haven’t heard even one other band attempt to use My Bloody Valentine’s tremolo techniques, deliver half as eclectic of a set or even touch on its emotional impact.

And emotional impact might be its most recognizable quality. Loveless is an incredibly visceral record; even when it sounds wrong it feels right. Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher make their guitars pulse and tremble in a somewhat random fashion, blanketing innovative pop songs with an unpredictable sheet of warmth. The result is incredibly difficult to pin down and yet still completely beautiful and moving.

The irony of its title seems to be the album’s least discussed issue, and my guess is because it is either so obviously ass backwards that it requires no further acknowledgment or because there are subtle implications throughout that Loveless never quite reaches transcendence. Shields himself has claimed that he wishes he could have taken the ideas he presented on Loveless further, but doing so would have ensured that it would never be released, and I have heard this album described as “ugly” countless times. It’s not an easy album, and it is by no means perfect, but its rewards leave us speechless, and that is something that few, if any, other artists have ever truly achieved. There is no album more filled with love.

My Bloody Valentine

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Mew – No More Stories / Are Told Today / I'm Sorry / They Washed Away // No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I'm Tired / Let's Wash Away

September 12, 2009

I don’t have a lot of energy right now, as it is late and I am back late from a show, but I am now listening to this album and feel that it deserves a shout out. So I’m going to give my incomplete, unedited take on it.

mew_no_more_stories

As the year progresses, more and more albums are catching my ear that impress me. I’ll be blunt by saying that No More Stories… is one of those albums. It is different from Mew’s previous LP, And The Glass Handed Kites (which, man, came out four years ago already?) in that it is very much a set of songs as opposed to a long suite. Each song is individual and memorable. This is due in part to Mew’s frequent tendency to experiment a little, and thus we get songs like “New Terrain” (which when played backwards reveals a completely different song. what’s shocking is that both songs are actually good), “Introducing Palace Players” (a fractured, no-tempo stomp), and “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds” (which begins at it’s climax and works backwards). These songs are pretty out there at first listen, but give them a little time and the pieces click into place and they are ultimately enticing. They are just new and different enough to be fascinating but they also have more conventional, melodic elements to them, and Mew are very good at melody. The album isn’t all experimentalism though; there are a couple more streamlined tunes here, but they aren’t by any means radio pop. “Repeaterbeater” reminisces of “Apocalypso” off of Glass Handed Kites in that it is shamelessly riffy hard rock. I’ll put another thing bluntly. This album is loaded. It’s got a lot of really memorable songs, and really no bad songs. Even the longer, downtempo pieces (“Silas the Magic Car,” “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds”) are top notch chamber dream pop despite being a little less involving. After maybe two listens, everything here is as familiar and excellent sounding as on Mew’s previous albums. The selection of songs that are excellent here is pretty overwhelming. Besides what I’ve already mentioned, “Beach,” “Hawaii Dream” (the album’s centerpiece, a tiny interlude. how funny that it ends up being one of the more memorable tracks on the album.), “Hawaii” (this one is just perfect, a charming tropical pop song complete with marimbas and skybound reverberating vocals), and “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” are all instantly classic Mew. And on the latter, Mew manage to match their awesome guest spot from J Mascis on Glass Handed Kites’ “Why Are You Looking Grave” with a showstopping performance from Mari Helgerlikova, an 88 year old Danish avant-garde singer. Basically, get this album for Christ’s sake. Mew make music that is, like much great art, just new and interesting enough to be engaging, but isn’t too far out. They are completely unabashed in their pop and rock sensibilities while still having the bravery to utilize conventions of many of their favorite genres such as shoegaze, dream pop, progressive rock and even classical pop. You could make a pretty good case that this is Mew’s best album to date. I can hear the complaint already that some might think that this album is tired, but it aknowledges this in it’s title, and knows it. Life can be weary and overbearing but finding refuge in quality music, whether it is music you can rock out to or curl up on the couch with, is pure satisfaction.

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Asobi Seksu – Hush

March 23, 2009
Asobi Seksu - Hush

Asobi Seksu - Hush

Asobi Seksu are a band that has claimed many adjectives. Their self-titled debut was, in a word, charming. It’s 2006 follow-up, Citrus, was, in another word, breathtaking (and I believe an easy pick for best album of 2006). Most bands would be happy to have just those words, but this band has garnered many more: “electric,” “judicious,” “succulent” and “charismatic,” among many others. How many more positive things can one say about a band? It seems to make sense, then, that not as many wonderful things are being said about the band’s new album, Hush. After all, where do you go once you get to the top of the mountain, like Asobi Seksu did with Citrus?

In retrospect, two options seem obvious. Both involve a step downward in quality, because there was no way they were going to trump Citrus, no matter what. Option one involves doing more of the same glittery shoegaze that we love, and getting blasted for not doing anything different. Option two involves dressing down their sound to something more subdued, and that is exactly what core members Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna do on Hush.

What this does is test their songwriting ability by leaving it to be the main attraction of the album. The tunes here are, instead of empowered and youthful like on Citrus, serious and contemplative. Also, the band switch from big room-filling My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze to more elegant Cocteau Twins-esque dreampop. The appearance of Chikudate on the cover might match this sound, as it did on the previous albums. More often than not, this new sound works, and we once again get the feeling that these musicians really are quite talented. Some songs, namely “Layers” and “Transparence,” find the band playing more charmingly simple music that works because they know how to match their new icy dreampop sound with simple melodies.

Without their sonic dress-up, Chikudate’s lyrics now reveal themselves as actually being a lot like Hannah’s. When he sang on songs like “Pink Cloud Tracing Paper” on Citrus, Hannah sounded shy, but that sort of shy vocal style that we find kind of cute. We got a taste of that from Chikudate too, but on Hush just about all of the vocals are like this, restrained. We want them to be brave and shout out, but they never seem to. In terms of instrumentation, they make similar conscious refrains. We do get hints of the reverb that we have heard from them in the past, but sometimes we can barely even hear any guitar (“Gliss”). The end product is ultimately very reserved, and we get the feeling that if we accompanied these songs with the self-assured sonic hugeness that the band had claimed previously, we’d get a lot more truly memorable songs.

And in fact, they do this exactly once, on the album’s first single, “Me & Mary.” The song sounds like a Citrus outtake, and it proves that their songwriting ability is still outwardly excellent if it is presented with this vitality. The rest of the album screams out to be fully expressed like “Me & Mary,” particularly on songs like “Familiar Light,” “Gliss,” and “Glacially.” It’s as if they are giving us a taste of what they could really accomplish should they decide to re-introduce the muscular production they once used, but its conscious shedding takes away something really important. The “Exotic Animal Paradise” we heard on Citrus may still be here, but it is deliberately obscured to the point where it is barely cognizable.

The most interesting thing about Hush is that it wears its sound and potential weaknesses on its sleeves. This could be seen as very empowering. We don’t have to search for an all-encompassing adjective here. It is provided for us. “Hush” was the logical next step, but there was more than one option. A very telling fact springs from the title of the album’s only instrumental interlude, “Risky and Pretty.” Asobi Seksu are good at being pretty, and they don’t have to be risky to be successful. The self titled album and Citrus were both accessible, loveable albums, and this one had the potential to be as much. The decision to make a sound change wasn’t necessarily a damning idea, but the risk they decided to take feels more like a calculated business decision. “Risky” would have been to not be afraid to stick with what works. But it should be said that Asobi Seksu make the sound switch fairly intelligently despite its inherent shortcomings, and they also still know how to write catchy tunes. So Hush will please fans, but it isn’t anywhere near the quality of its predecessors. But even if it was a complete disaster, I would have still bought tickets to see Asobi Seksu on March 28th. I haven’t given up on this band’s capability to make excellent albums. They are two for three, after all, so they have earned the benefit of the doubt as well as my encouragement as a fan to try whatever kind of sound they please.

Asobi Seksu

Asobi Seksu

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My Bloody Valentine – You Made Me Realise

September 17, 2008

Before My Bloody Valentine released their first album, Isn’t Anything, in 1988, they released a boatload of EPs. These EPs had a clear progression, but it was not until the seventh such EP, You Made Me Realise, when the band started to refine themselves into something important, and something more than a cheap pop band. Not that there was anything wrong with Strawberry And Wine and Ecstasy. Although they were deliberately vintage in their songcraft, they were loaded with fantastic pop that was more shimmering than most anything else on the market. In that sense, You Made Me Realise clearly bridges the gap between Ecstasy and Isn’t Anything. My Bloody Valentine are still a pop band, but are trying new and brave things. All the songs here are under four minutes, making the EP feel tightly wound, and each song has something completely different to offer. We still hear the familiar pop gold on the fast, driving Thorn and the closing Drive It All Over Me, two of the catchiest tunes ever put to record. Conversely slow and creamy is the hip hop inspired Slow. It has no chorus, and features one of the first examples of My Bloody Valentines famous tremelo techniques that would be touched on with Isn’t Anything and perfected on Loveless. The title track is three and a half minutes of blistering punk, and is in many respects My Bloody Valentine’s most triumphant single, with a final noise freakout that would swell from forty seconds to twenty minutes by the time it became a live staple for My Bloody Valentine to turn up their amps to ludicrous volumes and bombard their audiences with noise. This noise break may very well have been what inspired My Bloody Valentine to do the great things they did on Isn’t Anything and Loveless. Equally as interesting is the avant garde song Cigarette In Your Bed, which develops from a marching pace to a sprinting final stretch, all while experimenting with a range of guitar techniques. All of this comes together to make an extremely important EP in the history of both My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze genre, but more importantly one of the most fun and listenable EPs of all time.