Miranda from The Paper Cranes sent me a link to another excellent Victoria band today. They're called Colourbook, and they're a bunch of kids, much in the same way that The Most Serene Republic (TMSR) are a bunch of kids.
Difference is while Colourbook certainly show their late teen/early-20s' tendencies, they do so with a slightly morose, jaded edge, and their lyrics are good and their song-writing impressive. In other words, they're better than TMSR.
I have no details about these guys, other than they're playing with The 'Cranes on October 29st in Victoria, and they were recently signed to Warner/Reprise. Digging through their website's directory structure yielded three MP3s. I don't usually go to such blogger-style lengths to obtain music, but streaming high quality MP3s through Flash (as is done on their site) is annoying; I'd rather have the files. And no, I have never stolen a setlist -- I'll leave that to the guys down in NYC.
For the remainder of the shoegaze retrospective, I will only be linking people or references which have not already been covered in parts 1-3. Please check the archives. The complete retrospective will be compiled into one post when it's finished -- it looks like there will be six or seven parts.
When most people talk about shoegaze, the first band they mention is My Bloody Valentine (MBV). MBV formed in 1984, making fairly conventional Iggy Pop-inspired guitar rock -- it wasn't until Bilinda Butcher joined founders Kevin Shields and Colm O'Ciosoig in 1988, that their sound began to resemble the feedback-drenched shoegaze for which they gained so much posthumous recognition.
Isn't Anything, the band's first album with Butcher, was an epiphany compared to MBV's earlier work. The record is nowhere near as perfectly polished as their subsequent material, which I find to be an endearing quality. Songs like "Suieisfine" and "Feed Me With Your Kiss" exemplify the driving rock'n'roll side of shoegaze, with "No More Sorry" giving us a taste of what was soon to come.
At the time Isn't Anything was released, Loop had already charted similar waters, and a few other bands were putting out comparable material -- conceived in parallel, rather than through influence. While My Bloody Valentine helped lay down the blueprint many would follow, they were not solely responsible for it.
It was with Loveless, MBV's second - and last - album which insured Kevin Shields his iconic status within the indie/alternative music scene. Demonstrating great production skills, and an unhealthy attention to detail, Shields took his band's music and drowned it in oil -- all slick and scary and cold. You can hear Branca and Eno in the mix, but the final result is far more listenable than the abstract, quixotic noise-anthems either of them produced.
The final track on Loveless, "Soon" was to MBV what "Fool's Gold" was to The Stone Roses; a signature track unlike anything else they'd created. It even got the remix treatment by Andy Weatherall, although the original remains far superior. This was My Bloody Valentine's highest point, with the band disintegrating over the following years due to an increasingly reclusive Shields, who eventually began - amongst other things - farming chinchillas. This was not a rumour.
Kevin Shields has been doing remix projects and co-writing songs through the '90s, and produced the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation. While guys like Pete Kember and Neil Halstead are resigned to obscurity, Shields' name carries great weight, and lends an element of credibility to the projects he is involved with -- sometimes undeservedly.
The exploits of ex-MBV member Debbie Googe, who formed Snowpony in the late '90s with former Stereolab guitarist Katherine Gifford, were far less successful. Snowpony kinda sucked, and that's all there is to it.
Creation Records sure was hot back in the early '90s. Another of Alan McGee's signings - Ride - were in the process of winning hearts and minds of young, sad indie kids the world over -- or at least in England. Of course, there was no such thing as a today's stereotypical indie kid back then, but whatever. We did our best.
Rough around the edges for their first few EPs, Ride reigned things in and presented us with Nowhere, their first official album, which was - aside from the sophomoric lyrics (which I quoted to my ex-wife on more than one occassion) - a great listen. From start to finish, there isn't a bad song to be found. The dueling guitars and vocals of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell were just begging to be played real loud on your walkman between class -- while wondering why the fuck you were on this miserable planet to begin with. For me, 1990 was the year of "Vapour Trail" -- easily the most popular song from Nowhere, it holds up today as a perfect example of well-executed shoegaze pop.
I have to give thanks to the guys who introduced me to both Ride and My Bloody Valentine. My Ride connection was this older kid who hung out with me in the art room and made me listen to "Chelsea Girl." The other - the MBV fanatic - was in my english class. I think he dropped out, and I'm pretty sure he was in a band. Sorry I don't remember your names.
Anyway, thus ends Ride's foray into shoegaze. From here they would move more towards psych and '60s rock, sometimes successfully (Going Blank Again), and at other times unsuccessfuly (everything else). Andy Bell eventually joined Oasis.
Mark Gardener has just put together a new album after taking time off, touring as a solo artist, and releasing at least one very obscure track on a compilation my ex-wife had to join some fanclub to get. When we divorced, she kept Chapterhouse's Rownderbowt (now going for over $80 on eBay), and I got to hold onto this shitty fanclub compilation with the Gardener track on it.
Measles-Mumps-Rubella are from Washington DC -- they recently moved up to New York (you know? Like all the bands move to New York) and are in the process of finishing off their debut album, Fantasic Success (to be released on Doubling Cube Records). For those of us who've been listening to their Fountain Of Youth EP for the last year, this is good news.
They share some similarities with bands like Tussle, !!! and Jonathan Vance, but have their own unique sound. Ha ha. Yeah, don't you love it when someone says that? "They are like x and y and z, but with a sound all of their own." Whatever. They're good - very good - and they let me ask stupid interview questions. These guys deserve some serious props.
AYF?: Fleas, ticks and lice are one way in which disease travels. Do you de-louse yourselves?
Mark: Ah that question really takes me back. World War 1, the War To End All Wars, the Triple Alliance, the Triple Entente, the Double Entendre, the trench warfare, good times, land mines, something else that rhymes. I bet Franz Ferdinand gets this question all the time. If I didn't know better I'd suspect you might be a Prussian, no?
Chuck: I try to but there are too many blogs out there to rid myself of all of them. Diseases can travel through words as well. I heard of these things called viruses passed through email. Burroughs was right all along.
AYF?: What is the best way to search for you guys on the internet, because, you know, I don't really wanna know about the many ways in which I can die every time I'm looking to find out what's up with M-M-R-the-band.
[ You have to forgive Chuck for the whole "check out this cool link even though IT'S REALLY OLD, especially to those of us with blogs" faux pas. Yeah yeah, go look at Boohbah if you've been LIVING UNDER A ROCK and haven't seen it yet. It's funny/weird. ]
AYF?: Do you like emo? How many of you were in DC emo bands? Are you all friends with Fugazi?
Chuck: Emotions are temporary, they will pass. Everyone is friends with Fugazi, they are nice people.
Someone in M-M-R: About 16 of us were in emo bands, but then they all quit to join the Polyphonic Spree, but that's common knowledge. Shame on you! You should know that by now!
AYF?: Don't lie, everyone in DC was in an emo band...
Mark: There's no time to answer that question! I just found out that Tomcat's having a baby!
AYF?: Do you know who Jonathan Vance is? He's from Baltimore.
Robert: I’ve only heard of Jonathan Vance from you, I Googled him and read the interview you did with him. It mentioned Chris Coady, I know him, he’s from Baltimore, does that count? Would I win something if I knew Jonathan Vance?
Chuck: Baltimore is awesome! Sure, I will dance with you.
[ Who is this Chris Coady guy? ]
AYF?: How about Run-Roc? Are you familiar with them?
[ I am clearly name-dropping here. I want snarky answers. ]
Mark: Is that the name of Tomcats baby, because if it is then you already know my answer.
Robert: Again, perhaps I’m not on the edge of things these days, but I’ve only heard of Run-Roc from you… and yes, I then Googled it. Next time I might ask Jeeves.
Chuck: Is Run-Roc part of the Cex scene? Unfortunately, I am not that familar with baltimore's hip-hop scene. Baltimore breaks on the other hand are amazing. Check out DJ Nikey's "Ass Bag" and tell me you did not dance.
AYF?: You guys are in Brooklyn now... is it cooler than DC? Do you walk down Bedford Ave and say to each other, "aw shit... this place is cool."
Mark: No, I leave that up the to media.
Chuck: Actually the breeze from the water does make things cooler here. Plus we are closer to the artic circle now. None of us live in williamsburg, so I never find myself uttering that sentence there. DC is a swamp and felt that way sometimes.
[ What? But Brooklyn IS Bedford! ]
AYF?: What kind of stuff are you involved in down there? Do you put on mascara and go to Misshapes parties?
Chuck: i do not know of these parties you speak of. I do wear mascara and attend my daily Atheist Monk meetings.
Robert: I don’t know about these parties, are they like the cuddle parties? That shit’s weird man.
Mark: I'm not sure I understand the question. You're busting out some of that Prussian again aren't you?
[ OK, so I guess I won't find these guys on Lastnightsparty or Cobrasnake. Speaking of which, I get at least two or three hits every few days from people doing Google searches for Lastnightsparty. ]
AYF?: Do you think you could kick the shit out of Tussle in a fight? They're from the west coast -- hippies, right? They'd probably just go fetal position or something.
Robert: If we did kick their asses they probably wouldn’t smoke us out afterwards, so really what’s the point?
Chuck: Ever hear of the Yippies, people like the Weather Underground grew out of the hippie movement. It is easy to make fun of hippies because Anton Levy loathed them and it was such a phenomenon, but so is blogging, Myspace, Friendster etc. Why are people continuing to try to separate instead of bring together. Most of the time I am a lover not a fighter. Tussle would definitely be easier to spoon in fetal position. Did they ask for me to spoon them?
[ This sounds like a good concept for a photo editorial. ]
AYF?: Oh, and why so much time between the first EP and your album?
Chuck: I heard it was an extreme game of D&D where Robert lost all his wizard points and Beldasmat... oops I mean Mark was living on Skittles and Doritos for sustenance. Ryan got his doctoral degree in animal science and I still had another week left of space camp.
Mark: We were being de-loused.
[ Thanks. ]
Here are two exclusive new tracks from the un-released album, along with a repost of Fountain Of Youth from the EP of the same name:
Are You Familiar? receives quite a few emails from musicians looking to have their music disseminated via the blog community. I post very few of these songs; in fact, so far I haven't posted any. However, when I was contacted by someone from Domino USA, and they actually responded to me personally, I took the time to check out what they had to offer. Not surprisingly - given Domino's track record - it was great, in that punchy Stooges-meets-Britpop way -- you know, the sound Babyshambles goes for, and The Libertines gained so much cred creating in the first place. Well shit, who needs to wait for some waster to get out of rehab when we can listen to this?
It used to be a bit awkward telling your friends you were into twee Glaswegian pop music. You know, like Belle & Sebastian. Now all the critics are raining praise on the genre's progenitors, including Orange Juice and Josef K, and lately I've heard people reference the (highly obscure) C86 genre with a more reverent tone than ever before. Someone even put a fawning quote - from Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos - on the sticker I ripped off my copy of the recently released Very Best of Orange Juice compilation.
Conversely, telling your friends you're into shoegazer continues to elicit the same sideways glance – indicating pity and disdain – or blank stare it has since the mid-'90s. Who would've thought fans of My Blood Valentine and Slowdive would have been aspiring to the same respect afforded to twee pop?
Since it's fall from grace, blips in the shoegaze flat-line have been few and far-between -- but recently we've seen the stirrings of life, and a resurgence of interest. OK, maybe that's exaggerating, but at least a couple people I know are interested again. Bands like Dead Meadow, Sigur Ros, Khonnor, Sereena-Manesh, and now Faunts have all produced albums that have crossed the line from being formulaic copycats (ala Morr Music's Guitar) to being unique and engaging.
We're not talking about a series of eccentric clicks and pops here; this isn't a redefinition of the genre. All of these bands have the same penchant for layered guitar and delicate harmonies; crashing cymbals and buried vocals; echoed drums and feedback loops. Within these broad guidelines, Canada's Faunts give us something that fits neatly inside the vacuum left by Slowdive's transformation into Mojave 3. Indeed, their press release cites modern Slowdive-alikes Sigur Ros, and then has the balls to drop The Cure into the same sentence. As in, ethereal-like-Sigur-Ros, but pop-like-The-Cure. Balls yes, and they manage to deliver – for the most part - although the 'Cure reference is still a bit baffling.
The ironically titled, High Expectation/Low Results gets cute with us, and begins and ends with tracks titled "High Expectations," and "Low Results" respectively. Between these bookends, the band offers an interesting mix of swirling dirge and pop hook. "Memories Of Places We've Never Been" is a clear standout, and wouldn't feel out of place on The Legends' LP. From the fey vocal and light guitar work to the catchy synth/strings this is an excellent tune, and a worthy first single.
The sad, whispered, "Places I've Found" kills the energy built up by "…Never Been," and brings me to my biggest complaint with the album – the sequencing. With that precious album titling echoed in the track names, you'd figure there was a lot of thought put into how it played out, but there are a few points where the listener is thrown out of the album experience. This isn't a concert; there is no silly banter or guitar tuning here. All we have is the music, and there is very little dead space between any of these tracks to act as a buffer.
Faunts do a fine job of conveying the high-to-low concept. Granted, my analysis is a personal judgement, but on a purely analytical level, they could have spent more time tuning the start/end of each track to better fulfill their intent. With no spacing given to the tracks, the changes in mood are abrupt and jarring. Even throw-away interludes would have been sufficient to carry the album.
While "Places I've Found" evokes shades of Just For A Day-era Slowdive, "Parler De La Pluie Et Du Beau Temps" ("Talk Of Rain And The Good Times") provides a more interesting instrumental soundscape, all chimes and forlorn saxophones. The bass and eventual crescendo bring Pink Floyd to mind in the best possible way -- this is a heavy-handed song that works.
It's unfortunate that the big, crunchy drums from "Will You Tell Me Then" break the flow once again; they sound abrasive when put in context of the album's sequence, but work nicely as part of the song. The relatively weak chorus (which aims to soar) sits as a generic counterpoint to the rest of the reverb and echo in this song, which is graced with a wicked, stadium-worthy guitar/synth freak-out.
I sit here and try to piece this album back together in a way which would make it more enjoyable for me; not what the band might want to hear, but I can't help it. As the songs go by, I think to myself, "oh, if only 'Twenty-Three' was track six, not track seven," or, "I really wish I didn't have so many used glasses in front of my monitor." It's frustrating when the individual elements are so strong. If I were watching these guys play this set over at the club right now, I'd be six drinks in and calling my ex- telling her how terrible I am. Ending on a low is right.
The album, from "…Beau Temps" on, drips with mood. A very depressed mood, with some tear-jerking slide guitar, and a wonderful vocoder effect through "Twenty-Three," which shifts and wanders enough to make it's nine minutes feel far shorter. Following this is the thirteen-minute "Gone With The Day," which drives home the Mojave 3 countrygazer thematic, replete with a vocal delivery Neil Halstead would be proud of.
"Low Results" has more whooshing noises, backwards loops, and the infallible slide. The last quarter of the album manages to fit together nicely, and fades harmlessly into the background as I type. Hey, wouldn't it be nice if one of those tracks from the first quarter snuck it's way in here smoothly - without kicking my ears in the ass - to bring my attention back to the record. What? Maybe I should buy an iPod Shuffle? That's sorta funny, but no.
Thanks to Funtime OK for giving us a permanent link; I've been a reader for a while -- go check them out. They cover interesting stuff, and they have a cool layout.
In 1986, in Boston, Maryland, three friends were making music as Galaxie 500 (yeah, named after the car). Although they played together until 1990, Galaxie 500 went largely undiscovered on a popular level until much later. Their influence today is apparent not only through the re-release of their entire back catalogue, but by how many other musicians reference them as great, inspirational song-writers.
While it did have some followers in the States, shoegaze - at its' peak - was a distinctly English sound. The late '80s brought us bands like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, and Chapterhouse, who along with a host of lesser-known artists would define the genre. Creation Records label boss Alan McGee once said the only reason he signed shoegaze bands other than My Bloody Valentine, was to give people something - anything - to listen to while Kevin Sheilds came up with the new album (Loveless) -- a comment which does huge disservice to many talented musicians.
But it wasn't Creation who signed Spiritualized -- it was Dedicated Records. As Spiritualized, Jason Pierce leveraged the sound he had developed in Spacemen 3, and gave us the amazing Lazer Guided Melodies. The album was an underground favorite, and paved the way for Pierce's iconic indie-rock status. After Lazer Guided Melodies, Spiritualized moved towards a much bigger, more orchestral sound with banks of horns, gospel choirs, and Jason Pierce looking more like a conductor than a frontman. We got some good years out of them before the decline, and we have none other than Richard Ashcroft to thank for some of the amazing (and sad) lyrics we'd hear on both Pure Phase and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
That's right -- Richard Ashcroft. Before being sued by The Rolling Stones for Bittersweet Symphony's ubiquitous string arrangement, Mad Richard and The Verve were a very different band. Full of angst and feedback, barefoot on-stage and stoned to hell, The Verve were a bunch of long-haired, drugged out shoegaze posterboys. Later, Ashcroft would whine to the press that nobody wanted to hear what he had to say when he was happy -- only when he was sad. And you know what? It's true.
Richard grew up, married Jason Pierce's long-time girlfriend and former bandmate, Kate Radley (the source of much pain for Pierce), had a baby, and started to write some really horrible music. Sure there were some golden post-shoegaze years -- I just hope Ashcroft put some of that cash away for the kid.
Also emerging in the late '80s were Loop and The Telescopes. Loop had a dark, brooding feel to their music, and managed a few releases on the smaller - cool and unstable - labels of the time, like Situation 2, and Chapter 22, as well as with the more established Rough Trade Records. They didn't last long though, with the rhythm section (John Wills and Neil MacKay) going off to form The Hair & Skin Trading Company in 1991, but they had a devoted audience, and the band's founder, Robert Hampson, has continued to produce music as Main. Loop often wore their love for Suicide on their sleeve.
The Telescopes started out with a very hard edge, focusing on driving guitars and growling vocals. After their first label went under, they were picked up by Creation Records, and continued to produce music until as recently as 2001. The Telecopes are another diverse, underappreciated band from the early days of the shoegaze era.
In the meantime, over in England in the late '70s, something big was going on. Punk had exploded and imploded, and out of the mess came what we call post-punk. Tricky, huh? You could call just about anything post-punk these days, and while shoegaze itself may not be a straight shot back to the guitar hooks of Gang Of Four, there was an interesting array of experimentation going on under the auspices of "post punk" music.
It would be difficult to write about the post-punk revolution without mentioning Joy Division. Their influence is still huge, even if their time was cut short with the suicide of Ian Curtis -- I would argue that it's their moody, counter-cultural ethos which is channelled through shoegaze. After reforming as New Order, the band formerly known as Joy Division eventually veered from their dark past, but not before giving us a few great tracks featuring feedback and drum machines.
In 1983, feedback was cool -- no, feedback was awesome. So were purposely dodgy production techniques and eccentric vocals. The Jesus & Mary Chain (JAMC) - namely, the brothers Reid and drummer Bobby Gillespie - hit the UK Top 50 riding a wave of feedback layered over almost indistinguishable post-punk guitar hooks. Taking Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound to the extreme, JAMC laid down a post-punk blueprint that many bands would follow.
Gillespe would go on to form Primal Scream, who themselves became a major influence in the alternative music scene, first under the C86 genre banner, and later, as relative - Scottish - outsiders in the Madchester blow-up. While C86 - named for an NME-released mix-tape compilation - doesn't hold much direct relevance for shoegaze, it did feature a number of well-received bands (Primal Scream, The Mighty Lemondrops, The Wedding Present, The Soupdragons).
The guitar squall of The Jesus & Mary Chain was echoed by another English band who formed in the mid '80s -- Spacemen 3. Primarily the artistic vehicle for Pete Kember (Sonic Boom), and Jason Pierce (J. Spaceman), along with Stewart Roswell and Pete Baines, Spacemen 3 pushed forward with unconventional instrumentation, and a love for antiquated electronics.
The band lasted four years, but a few of the members went on to form their own well-received follow-up projects. Kember, with Kevin Shields, created Experimental Audio Research (EAR), while Pierce fronted the relatively successful Spiritualized. Sometime-Spacemen 3 member Willie Carruthers worked with Kember under the Spectrum moniker, and has his own - often overlooked - band, Freelovebabies.
A week off, and my burn-out seems to have subsided. Huge thanks to everyone who came out to see Man Man a week ago, as well as the show we did with My Project: Blue, members of Broken Social Scene, The Zoobombs, Kat Burns, and Problem, on the previous Thursday. We had six members of Broken Social Scene on-stage at The Silver Dollar, and Kevin Drew's 1am duet with The Zoobombs was just awesome.
The long-promised shoegaze retrospective kicks off today. I also have a couple CD reviews waiting in the wings, as well as some new interviews to post. Here we go...
In 2003 a compilation called Feedback To The Future was released on a German label called Mobilé; it attempted to put together a collection of songs from the early '90s shoegaze movement, and wrap them up in very nice packaging. While the accompanying artist information was interesting, and I do like the pink cover, what was most noticeable were the apologies as to why certain bands were left out. Yeah, the legal hassles.
Fuck legality, right?
OK no, I don't agree with that sentiment, but sometimes - when you're dealing in obscurity - I see no reason why rules shouldn't be bent in order to bring to light lost art. This is the reason for the stacks of CDs surrounding me and the dual-deck CD burner crunching through old and obscure discs.
It would be ridiculous to think anyone could give a complete retrospective on a genre; what you'll get here is a large cross-section of music which came before, during, and after shoegaze -- a term still disliked by many who were fans of the sound (including myself). However, as the liner notes to Feedback To The Future said, it helps to put a name to the music.
There was a lot of real crap that came out under the guise of shoegaze -- I am going to try leave most of that out. Much like Madchester - a genre with which it shares some bands and parallels of influence - shoegaze, once defined, became entirely too self-referential and self-serving. It burnt itself out, with most of the bands going on to produce subsequent, sub-par albums through the '90s (see Lush, Ride, and eventually Spiritualized).
Shoegaze got it's name from the live shows put on by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and a couple other seminal artists in the genre. In each case - whether the result of shyness, musical ineptness, or a consciously adopted attitude - the bands would play, heads down, as the sound of feedback and distortion washed over the crowds. As time wore on, the live shows changed - not so much staring at the ground anymore - but the name stuck. If someone would like to offer an alternative genre title, I'd be all over that, but this is what we have for now: shoegaze.
Tracking the history of a genre is never easy -- you can go back as far as you want. But for the sake of brevity, and my sanity, I'm going to start in the late '70s and early '80s in New York, with Glenn Branca. Yes, I am glossing over the obvious influences of Phil Spector (who coined the production term, "Wall Of Sound"), Brian Eno, The Velvet Underground, Can, Wire, Suicide, and Television. We're starting with Glenn Branca, and more specifically, with The Ascension -- his second album.
Listening to these - Branca's post-Static/Theoretical Girls guitar-based compositions - one can hear echoes of what Kevin Shields would eventually produce as My Bloody Valentine -- intentional or not. Around the time The Ascension was released, Branca solicited the help of guitarist, Thurston Moore. Lee Ranaldo, who was already playing with Branca, would team up with Moore to form Sonic Youth.
Moore and Ranaldo began their decades-long collaboration as Sonic Youth, with a clear nod to Branca's idiosyncratic song-writing. Of course, their path took them in a completely different direction; while still noisy, the music they eventually produced was far from shoegaze. It is only on their first, self-titled EP that such a clear line can be drawn to Branca (excluding side-projects, of course).