Slowdive – Here She Comes [a surreal fan video]

Here’s an admission: shoegaze is still one of my favorite genres. The gauzy dream-sound of guitars blurred into pure haze.. it’s never left that soft, nostalgic center of my brain. Effects pedals, ghosted vocals, and a sort of spectral swagger will always their place in my heart.

Today I listened to Slowdive‘s monumental second album, Souvlaki, and it all came flooding back.

Here She Comes is the simplest, most direct song on the album. The impressionistic lyrics are just dark and weird enough to not seem juvenile; combined with the melodic cloud of hand drums and reverb-laden guitar, they form a surreal love poem.

It’s so lonely in this place
So cold I don’t believe
And as no-one knows my name
It’s easy to pretend
It’s easy to believe
There’s a shadow on my wall
It dances like my soul
Dances like my soul
It’s so cold now
I swear it will be warm
Here she come now

Since they recently reformed, I’m hoping for at least one chance to see Slowdive perform in this lifetime.

slowdive souvlaki

Someone was kind enough to upload the entire Souvlaki album on youtube, so give it a listen if you don’t already own it. As one of the best albums of the 90s, and easily one of two or three crowning achievements of the shoegaze genre, it’d be a damn shame to miss out on this experience. Buy the album for less than $10, if you’re interested. Or listen first below.

There’s a shadow on my wall / It dances like my soul

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]