Belong – Common Era

So this happened today.

I’m listening to that Belong album from last year and thinking, I really enjoy this.  Syrupy sweet drone-gaze pop, it’s like the ending to every JAMC song stretched out in slow motion.

I left that comment in an unrelated discussion and realized how taken I am with this sound and that I should probably share the sentiment.  So here it is.   As a fan of the band’s debut, October Language, I felt underwhelmed with the relatively more “conventional” approach of Common Era – at first.  The debut imagines a warm embrace between Fennesz style digital grain waves and the melodic structure of noise pop like My Bloody Valentine; there’s a romantic swoon to its rolling feedback clouds.  This newer album had the bald audacity to add drums, trim song lengths, and nearly decipherable vocals.  What were they thinking?  On second listen, possibly a year later, the true beauty of this work is finally hitting me.  I’m thankful the context had time to dissipate, that I could hear it with fresh ears.

There’s the propulsive kick of Joy Division and the roar of Boris in every track.  There’s a cumulative effect to the song craft in the way a sense of melody and narrative build up over the course of several minutes.  The mirage of canned drums behind a wall of brazen feedback fades to reveal ragged pop anthems and yearning dream time vocals.  It’s not revolutionary; it’s just executed perfectly.

Lead single Perfect Life.  Probably the catchiest track, but make sure to hear it all.  Some moments here stretch into bliss.

For fans of: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Fennesz, Joy Division, Tim Hecker, drone, rain

Flying Saucer Attack – Further

Because this needed to be discussed.

I purchased this from the used bin at the record shop last month, and the clerk told me it’d been something like a decade since he’d sold a Flying Saucer Attack album.  My first thought:  people are terrible.  My second thought:  I’m going to try rectifying this.  So here goes.

I got into this band years ago while neck deep in a shoegaze journey, after exhausting the usual suspects.  I’d devoured Slowdive, Swervedriver, Ride, Jesus and Mary Chain, and of course My Bloody Valentine‘s era-defining Loveless.  I scoured the feedback plains in search of the next step.  I needed something more.  Something deeper, further out there.  I wanted to experience my mind turning to vapor, soaring out the atmosphere, leaving my corporeal form.  I wanted music to take me where others used drugs or religion to go.  Naturally, I stepped through the looking glass of the Spacemen 3 universe, never to return.

What makes shoegaze so attractive in the first place is the gauzy womb-like comfort of being enveloped in unending guitar tones, washed over and blasted away by tidal waves of feedback.  Abrasive or smooth, it becomes a brain massage at proper volume level.  It’s an instant journey outside the body, a steamroller for uneasy thoughts, a gateway to that liberating nothingness sought in meditation.  When an artist truly nails it, nothing is more transcendent.  When you’ve lived inside this sound long enough, it takes a new approach to reach the same heights.

Enter Flying Saucer Attack’s “rural psychedelia” and behold.  Created by then-couple David Pearce and Rachel Brook, the expansive nature of this recording belies its bedroom equipment genesis, long before the laptop era.  Fahey-like acoustic guitar and hushed blurry vocals ride inside an at-times deafening column of feedback.  There’s a tactile beauty in these delicate textures, a sense that the low-slung noise is brushing your cheek.  Hot lips caress, whispering the songs deep into your ears.  A lot of shoegaze barrels at you, filling the room and crushing your chest.  This is more like the sky being colored in, drawing tighter, embracing warm and soft, and lifting you up.

Here’s a first dose, a perfect entry point.

Here’s a real trip.  Hold on through the journey.

Well, after that not much can be said.  I hope those of you open and eager for this experience have found it.

[easily purchased from label Drag City itself, and thankfully Amazon has a few copies as well.  If you enjoyed those songs at all, I can't imagine a surer bet.]

Best of the Rest of 2010

My Best of 2010 was basically an attempt to carve my musical experience of the past year down to its most essential, most ingrained elements.  An attempt to sum up the music I feel had the largest impact on my listening, on my life.

I left out a lot of great albums.  Thankfully, they were drawn from a text file kept on my desktop throughout the year, chronicling each album I decide, at a given moment, is awesome.  Yes, it’s that simple.  As time passes I remove the fleeting infatuations, anything not holding up.  So I’m left with a solid list I can refer to in search of everything I really, truly enjoyed this year.  This is it, in order I heard them.

  • Bullion – Say Goodbye To What EP

  • Four Tet – There Is Love In You

  • Arrington De Dionyso – Malaikat Dan Singa

  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales

  • Autechre – Oversteps

  • Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

  • Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh

  • Ikonika – Contact Want Love Have

  • Take – Only Mountain

  • LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

  • Boris – Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 3

  • Connect_icut – Fourier’s Algorithm

  • Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

  • Rollo – 3

  • Yellow Swans – Going Places

  • Sightings – City of Straw

  • Guido – Anidea

  • Lorn – Nothing Else

  • Teebs & Jackhigh – Tropics EP

  • Infinite Body – Carve Out The Face Of My God

  • The-Dream – Love King

  • The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart

  • Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin

  • TOKiMONSTA – Midnight Menu

  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal 7″

  • Scuba – Triangulation

  • Sepalcure – Love Pressure EP

  • Imbogodom – The Metallic Year

  • Singing Statues – Outtakes EP

  • Flying Lotus – Patter + Grid World EP

  • Seefeel – Faults EP

  • Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself

  • Efdemin – Chicago

  • T++ – Wireless

  • Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

  • Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

  • Balam Acab – See Birds EP

  • Gonjasufi – The Caliph’s Tea Party

  • VHS Head – Trademark Ribbons of Gold

  • Marcus Fjellström – Schattenspieler

  • Zach Hill – Face Tat

  • Games – That We Can Play

  • Zs – New Slaves

  • Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo

  • Richard Skelton – Landings

  • James Blake – Klavierwerke EP

  • Fursaxa – Mycorrhizae Realm

  • Dimlite – My Human Wears Acedia Shreds EP

  • Kurt Weisman – Orange

  • Clubroot – II MMX

So there it is.  Something to remember is that any one of these albums may end up defining the year as much as the ‘true’ list – and that something I haven’t even heard yet may best them all.  It’s happened before.  This is why Optimistic Underground will soon post its first Music From Before 2010 But Discovered This Year list.  This will cover the much wider range of music I was into this year, since there is already much more music out there than is being released at any given time.

[This post is subject to change.  Like I'll probably add one or two more by January.]

STAR – Devastator

STAR is the latest and easily most accessible project from longtime Chicago noise purveyor Scott Cortez, pulling both the most rhythmic and sensual threads from his Astrobrite and Lovesliescrushing projects and twisting it up in a heavy coctail of feral shoegaze.

Not for the faint of heart or those looking for something on the pretty end of the genre spectrum, this album has all the feedback and grit of Loveless, paired with structures so direct, pounding, and straightforward they’d make the White Stripes‘ eponymous debut blush.  Not content to simply burnish a menagerie of effects pedals (ahem, A Place To Bury Strangers), the band crafts a tight little set of addictively hummable songs that shine clear and bright through the storm of amp worship.  It’s fun, active, and humbly brilliant.  Devastator is an unassuming foray into hazy rhythmic stomp and groove love anthems; it’s the kind of album to drive alone at night with, or simply relax with a glass of whiskey and some headphones as company.

[pick this up at lovelyrebelrecords or cdbaby or cduniverse]

Rumskib

Rumskib are a Danish shoegaze outfit making the kind of straightforward gauzy guitar love spiked with dreamy female vocals that simply hasn’t been attempted, much less achieved, since the beloved genre’s first trip around the sun nearly 2 decades ago.

rumskib

The fact is, the band does nothing truly new on this, their debut LP.  More importantly, they don’t need to, as far as I’m concerned.  These 12 tracks run the gamut from billowing dreampop confections in the vein of later Cocteau Twins to the shaggy rock paeons to feedback of Ride or Swervedriver.  Never as dark as Codeine or bright as Chapterhouse, they seem to hold some imaginary locus of the shoegaze galaxy.  I’ll put it in terms I’d describe to a friend before slipping the disc into my car stereo:  The most obvious launch point for these ideas occupies the monolithic elephant in the room:  Soon, the stoccato dance-drum propelled, bubbly synth laden closer of Loveless.

Don’t expect the band to top that particular juggernaut and you’ll be well on your way for appreciating this rare gem for what it is:  an extremely solid shoegaze epic the likes of which simply aren’t made these days.  And a great stopgap while we all wait for Kevin Shields to stop pretending he’s in a coma.

[please check this out on amazon or the band's own website]

Love Spirals Downwards – Flux

A jet engine blast of an aural rubdown. Love Spirals Downwards attained a unique perfection with this release, striking at the heart of what I consider love sounds – music which conveys the intimate, soothing nature of love itself.  Music which can be a close companion in headphones, embracing worn psyches, calming fears, elevating a languid soul.

Tumbling down a vortex of gauzy electronic opulence, with Suzanne Perry’s siren cry as the only constant, this album is designed for losing oneself into shifting texture.  Ostensibly a dreampop-based sound in atmosphere and tone, the immediacy and a sense of futurism derived via many surprising elements sprinkled throughout engender rapt attention.  Love Spirals Downwards incorporates idm beats, afrobeat percussion, deep-as-dub bass lines and an ambient sensibility to drown everything in an opiate syrup.  Overlaid are the most ethereal guitar lines since Slowdive left orbit – and a shoegazer’s narcotic intentions to back them up.

Getting down to brass tacks, I suggest one merely listen to the track Psyche to fully grasp the beauty of this work.  If that one doesn’t bore straight through the frontal lobe to the brain stem and render jaws slack, I suggest taking a puff and then giving it another go.  Lay back and let the waves wash over.

[purchase at the band's label, Projekt of course, or CDBaby - a new hard copy will be a rare find, but digital copies abound at amazon]

Galaxie 500

Galaxie 500 are one of the greatest bands of all time.

Yeah, I just said that.

galaxie500-02

Standing as one of the highest monuments to the phrase “criminally ignored in their lifetime,” Galaxie 500 perfected the blueprint for absolutely blissed-out hazy love sounds in a mere 3 albums before acrimoniously splitting in 1991.  Existing for five years and releasing music for just three, their acknowledged impact on music has grown exponentially in the intervening quarter-century.

Presaging shoegaze with their opioid rhythm section and warm liquid guitar tones, and possessing the unquestioned lineage of anything labeled “slowcore,” they could be unjustly mistaken for Music To Fall Asleep To.  That’s a crying shame.  Although oftentimes I would be hard pressed to think of a better time than lying in bed all day listening to Galaxie 500 on repeat, this music demands close attention.  Allowing oneself to drift off to the narcotic tug is indeed a divine pleasure, but greater rewards await those who sit up, pay attention, and maybe get out in the sunshine while they’re at it.  There is a spiritual element to this music that touches everyone who truly absorbs and becomes absorbed by its spare grace.

This is not to imply it is in any way religious, because it is not.  This is music to truly uplift and affirm.  To warm the soul, soothe frayed nerves, and leave the listener on a higher plane than before he pressed play.  These songs have infinitely larger meaning in their feel than in anything so pedestrian as lyrical content.  In fact, the lyrics are often vague, dreamlike,  and understated; concerned with basic themes of disaffection, longing, ennui, and of course love, the words themselves are not groundbreaking.  The heavenly atmosphere is engendered by the perfectly interweaved instrumentation, the egalitarian balance of every element in the mix, and the effortlessly captivating and timeless melodies Dean Wareham, Naomi Yang, and Damon Krukowski captured on record nearly two decades ago.  These records can accompany a bicycle ride, day at the beach, even a nap perfectly.  It’d be an even larger criminal offense if that’s all they are remembered for.  Galaxie 500 carry the mind and soul aloft, to dance with ideals and hopes and dreams far above the day-to-day reality of earth.

today350

Today, 1988

Key tracks: Flowers, Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste (godlike Jonathan Richman cover), Tugboat

onfire3501

On Fire, 1989

Key tracks: Blue Thunder, When Will You Come Home (one of my absolute favorite songs of all time, no question), Ceremony (excellent cover of early New Order single, arguably better than the original)

galaxie500_thisisourmusic1

This Is Our Music, 1990

Key tracks: Fourth of July, Summertime, Listen The Snow Is Falling (towering, gorgeous cover of a Yoko Ono track – undeniably, exponentially superior to the original), Way Up High, and the bonus track Here She Comes Now (a thundering, aggressive, majestic cover of the Velvet Underground original.  I am a huge VU fan yet still consider this better than the original, again, by a long shot).  Also, hopefully you’ll notice the album is named after a certain Ornette Coleman classic, and aptly so.

Please remember, the ‘key tracks’ are to conjure interest.  They’re entry-points, if you will.  Each of these records are of a piece and meant to be heard as such.  Not that you’ll have any trouble letting them spin after hearing the first track (which I’ve included as ‘key’ for each) and being comfortably locked in for the duration.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

So these are the three studio albums released in the lifetime of the band.  Dean went on to form the much more successful Luna, and Damon and Naomi formed, well, Damon & Naomi, but no matter how they tried, never eclipsed the sonic glory of this brief engagement.  As for the music, no individual description is necessary.  I will simply offer that they are one of the most consistent bands to have ever existed.  Though constantly evolving and updating their sound, breaking through subtle barriers with each subsequent release, the entire ethos and drive of the music remained rock solid from day one.  From the moment you first hear Galaxie 500, these tones will have unrivalled distinction as unique as a fingerprint.  Nothing else aproximates the quietly triumphant bliss conjured here.

[purchase Today, On Fire, and This Is Our Music separately at amazon, but keep an eye out at your local independent record shop, as I've found the CDs at entirely reasonable prices.  plus you've more chance of finding the Peel Sessions, the Uncollected, and Copenhagen (Live) sets as well]