Beach House Is Back And Better Than I Remembered

A lot of bands ape their influences, and a few even do it successfully. Far more rare are the artists who completely breathe in the essence of what made their heroes tick, exhaling something uniquely infused with the original spirit but unfolding its own logic.

Beach House has been a solid band for years, trading in dusky dreampop that bloomed into technicolor and leaned into the pop side of that sound as the albums went on. Their new album, Depression Cherry, sounds like a confident leap into the rarefied territory of legends like Cocteau Twins and Slowdive.

Interestingly enough, first single Sparks reminds me of My Bloody Valentine in a big way, while the rest of the album is far more interested in playing with the lighter shades of the bands mentioned above. There’s something about the guitar melody cresting with Victoria Legrand’s voice that instantly pulls my thoughts to Loveless. Instead of feeling derivative, it’s a well-earned spiritual nod.

In all seriousness, I haven’t enjoyed Beach House this much since first discovering the band in 2008. The first song kicks off bursting with renewed energy, much like Cocteau Twins’ very own Cherry Coloured Funk on their 1990 masterpiece Heaven Or Las Vegas.

I’m also picking up more of a spooky romanticism, nodding to the kind of dystopian 1950’s American Dream vibe that permeates the music of Twin Peaks. Final song Days of Candy, in particular, could have come from the show’s very own Julee Cruise herself. I’m pleasantly reminded of Laura Palmer’s theme itself, Mysteries of Love.

I’ve only listened to this album two times but I was so bursting with enthusiasm I had to write about it immediately. I get beyond excited when an artist finds a novel shade of shoegaze or unearths a new facet of dreampop. These sounds form part of the core of my musical identity; if jazz is the brains, shoegaze and dreampop are the heart. No other genre brings a blush to my face in this way. Suffice it to say that I’m shocked at how well this new Beach House album hits a preternatural sweet spot.

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If you’re interested in hearing it right now, you can preorder the album and get access to the whole thing streaming until its release next week. I couldn’t resist; they’ve got a Loser edition clear vinyl on offer!

Stay tuned, because as soon as it’s available, I will be posting my favorite tune on the album: Space Song. I can only say that it’s not only a worthy follow up to Devotion‘s peak Astronaut, it’s a close cousin to the most swoon-worthy songs of Spiritualized.

Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015

So suddenly Flying Saucer Attack appears again, nearly 15 years after last contact, with a set of unnamed instrumentals. It’s gorgeous, droning guitar music that makes no apologies for its obliqueness and doesn’t try to reach out to the uninitiated.

This slab of ashen dream is ready and waiting for anyone interested.

If you’re of a certain disposition, you’ll fall into this sound immediately. Waves of gentle feedback wash over, and echoes that open up like a giant’s maw swallow you whole. It’s often formless, but never vaporous. There’s a weight and drive behind this music. It could soundtrack an apocalyptic Western or a gallery of Dali paintings. I will definitely color your dreams.

It seems amazing to think that David Pearce (the sole remaining member after Rachel Brook left sometime in the 90s) could have kept this project so under the radar, releasing it into the void of 2015 without warning or fanfare. The guy has virtually zero online presence, but judging by talks with friends and other fanatics around the world, there was an unspoken thirst for this kind of guitar mastery.

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FSA mysteriously erupted again at the perfect moment, then. With zero warning, this vaguely titled album has begun making its way around the world and touching people based purely on word of mouth. Despite its focused dedication to drifting sounds and little to no sense of melody, it’s achingly beautiful and sensual. It proves that Pearce has a lot to offer the world, well over two decades since releasing his masterpiece album Further. I’m just hoping that this is the opening shot, a prelude to bigger things. The man who invented rural psychedelia is back, and I’m hungry for more, all over again.

Instrumental 7 (which seems to have the prior track tacked onto the front) is a fantastic sprawl at the heart of the album. I love how the ringing drone slowly gives way to a muted but glowing melodic phrase; it feels like emerging from underwater. I shared it because of the dark slideshow video, which helps set the tone visually, before the music overwhelms.

My favorite song, however, is the final track, Instrumental 15. It feels like a volcano erupting in slow motion, glaciers of molten earth sailing gently through the air. There’s danger and heat lurking within the delicate arcs of fire. The guitar is rarely used to such expressive and lyrical effect these days. We’re so lucky that Pearce has begun recording again.

You can buy the album directly from the band here. I’m going for the vinyl of course, because just look at that cover art.

“I Crave Being Destroyed”

Combing my list of unfinished drafts, I sometimes unearth little gems. This one began as a nod to a certain New Orleans ambient noise band, but quickly veered into a miniature Grand Statement about what I get out of music.

This self portrait is a handy visual metaphor for the words you’re about to read.

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I was discussing Belong‘s debut album, October Language. I was living in San Francisco and had picked up the album on CD at Aquarius Records. The following is what I wrote almost exactly 4 years ago. I’m sharing because it still applies to my life.

Continue reading

My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless Has Been Reissued On Vinyl

This is no joke. I was wandering through Vertigo Music in downtown Grand Rapids, MI, yesterday and my eyes fell upon something I never expected to see without the internet exploding well ahead of time: a fresh LP copy of the timeless shoegaze masterpiece, Loveless. I hugged it lightly against my chest as I finished browsing (and picking up a copy of Cocteau TwinsHeaven Or Las Vegas) before asking the wise and friendly owner if he knew the details.

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As my cursory Discogs browsing had indicated, it’s a likely bootleg. Do not let this fact discourage you. The sound is impeccable, and after a single listen the moment I got home, I have to say that it sounds warmer, and a bit more substantial, than the tinny original CD edition we’ve all been stuck with for over two decades. It may be sourced from the few-years-old analog/digital remaster that Kevin Shields has still neglected to release or it may be from the original vinyl issue, for all I know. The point is, if you love this album already, you’re going to adore the sound quality of this release.

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The packaging claims that it’s a Creation Records release, “made in Nippon,” which, along with the lack of an Obi strip, tips me off to the bootleg nature of this release. With a money back guarantee if I wasn’t satisfied, this was hardly a passing concern. I’m so thankful that I took the leap and now own a perfectly decent copy of one of my favorite albums of all time on vinyl.

Now, for a bit of additional information: this is not a straight reissue of Loveless in its original form. There is a second disc, and while the original 11 tracks are in place, a small wealth of bonus material fills out disc two.

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As shown on the back side of the full size insert, there is a minor annoyance: the original album tracks are spread over three sides, instead of a single disc. Perhaps this was to allow for a deeper mastering, or simply to ensure that they could fill out a full four sides of music. Regardless, this became a non-issue once I heard how fantastic it sounds. As an owner of the original Tremolo EP on CD, it’s fantastic to have the three original songs (Swallow, Honey Power, and Moon Song) represented here along with Sugar (from a split single with Pacific) and Instrumental no. 2, a tune I only recently discovered with the 2012 2CD EPs 1988-1991 release. These five wonderful tunes round out the reissue in a non-essential yet entirely welcome manner.

I’ll finish this post with a couple links to help my fellow MBV fans make a purchase of their own. The fact that I hadn’t heard one peep about this says that it might come as a surprise. There are a handful of copies on Discogs, and one seller on Amazon seems to have this edition for $79. Please note that there are occasionally copies of a 2003 Plain reissue floating around, but my experience with this company isn’t encouraging. Shields himself has stated that it’s “ripped from the original CD” and the label doesn’t have a great track record with regards to pressing quality.

With all that out of the way: I can’t emphasize enough how much of a gorgeous, mind-bending landmark this album is, how much of a monolithic presence it’s played in my life and the development of my musical taste. Loveless is so much more than “the best shoegaze album.” It’s a sound that bends rock music so far that, instead of breaking, it pushes into entirely new dimensions. Once you’ve let it into your life, your sense of audio aesthetics will be forever changed. I couldn’t wait to share the news with everyone.

(Here’s the full album, in case you’re wondering what the fuss is about. Play at high volume.)

By the way: if you live anywhere nearby, please visit Vertigo Music and talk to the owner, Herm. Tell him I sent you. It’s easily the best record store I’ve ever visited in the midwest. There were 2 copies left yesterday, at only $27. Hurry if you’re interested!

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.

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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.]