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Music has the right to grandchildren… Glassacre, Airiel, A place to bury strangers, Ulrich Schnauss, I love you but I’ve chosen darkness…Serena Maneesh.. Lights Out Asia…The Radio Department April 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Music.
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There’s something afoot in music – well, I guess there always is. Still, there are a raft of contemporary bands which have roots that reach back two decades but which somehow transcend or build upon their influences in a way which is utterly different to previous copyists (a big hi to Oasis and Blur). I’m thinking mostly, but not exclusively, of those lurking in what is disparagingly, or sometimes not, termed newgaze… the offspring of the wave of noisy bands (termed shoegazers, due to their propensity to stand relatively still and look down at the pedals) which piled up in 1990 to 1994, including people like Ride, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, Moose and of course their precursors the first generation which included the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine… As it happens I never had much time for Ride, but the others…ah, the others.

Five or six bands in this broad musical area have impressed me over the past year or so. These being Serena Maneesh, I love you but I’ve chosen Darkness, Airiel, Lights Out Asia, the Radio Department and Glassacre.

First up Lights Out Asia whose work seems to sit in a strange area between Talk Talk (really one of the most interesting bands of their era), post-punk, shoegaze and something close to soundtrack composition.

It took a while for me to get past the vocals which appeared to have wandered in from an entirely different sort of band – perhaps something a bit more Blue Nile (never a favourite although I appreciate the craft). But the music is a compelling mix of heavily reverbed and layered guitars and keyboards… It’s quite soft with sounds reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins although it eschews their sometime archness in favour of pure soundscapes… There’s only one track up on YouTube which doesn’t quite capture them, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

Lilies of the subway.

Then there is Airiel… this bunch have been producing high quality guitar based shoe-gaze for some years now. They had a series of remarkable EPs, which were only very slightly let down by some inconsistent vocals. A new album released recently upgraded the sound with some interesting 1970s heavy rock flourishes…

Peoria

What of I love you but I’ve Chosen Darkness.

Well now, here are the Chameleons, Joy Division, indeed an entire roster of post-punk bands. And yet, unlike Interpol there is something convincing about their shtick. Is it the guitars, is it the vocals? I don’t know, and frankly don’t much care. It works for me. Granted, they’re the least shoe-gaze, neo or otherwise of the bands here…

The Owl

According to Pla

Consider Serena Maneesh. Once upon a time some of the members of Serena Maneesh were in a glam-rock band. And so Serena Maneesh sound, every so often, as if they’re still in a glam-rock band. For many this might be a problem, but not for me. I admire the scarf wound around the vocalists head. There are icy blondes. There’s a sort of faux-Velvets cool emanating from them, but the music itself is sweet/sour, and hey, I ask for little more. For a few minutes genius one can do little better than the following…

Drain Cosmetics

For frosty cool (and with treated and reversed guitars a la MBV) this is equally good…

Sapphire Eyes

Then we have the Radio Department. They have real videos with budgets supporting them. Hurrah! Folky, fey, feedbacky, I’m running out of words starting with ‘f’ to describe them.

Pulling our weight

Where Damage isn’t already done

The worst taste in music … some say this sounds like the Pet Shop Boys. I think not.

From New Zealand we have Glassacre, a band whose lead singer steps close to the sound of Church guitarist Peter Koppes. Here you can find some examples of their songs… Now sadly this Antipodean act doesn’t appear on YouTube, so we have little idea of their visual approach, but the music is a curious mix of loping dance rhythms and neo-shoegaze. Fair dues….

Ulrich Schnauss is moving forward in leaps and bounds and generating a significant fanbase through an adept mix of warm electronica and strong guitars. The music does the work. One either likes it or doesn’t…

Clear Day ah… such a bassline… such wobbling keyboards (close to the sound of Boards of Canada who are also excellent and have been namechecked here previously)… take it away Ulrich.

Goodbye

And finally, what of A place to bury strangers… Supposedly the ‘loudest band in New York’, not entirely a difficult proposition when one sounds not entirely dissimilar to the Jesus and Mary Chain (and I recall only too well the second time I saw the latter when they were touring their second album… not good for my hearing).

I know I’ll see you…

It’s New Order from Movement filtered through the Jesus and Mary Chain… genius… strange atonal shrieks of feedback, high pitched guitar sounds (the guitarist/vocalist builds his own pedals and has supplied them to bands like Wilco) echoing riffs, a bassline that really should have been written before this. Filtered percussion and a video…

Some unkind souls have suggested that it’s just In A Hole from JAMCs Psychocandy rewritten. Well, perhaps. But for those who loved the JAMC in 1985 and in our own way still do it’s great to hear someone doing something that builds upon the sound. It’s richer, more melodic, less in thrall to surf rock. The vocals are similar, okay, in parts they’re indistinguishable, as are the lyrics. And yet, to me they seem to catch the essence not of Pschocandy, but of the covers that the JAMC had on the flipside of the Never Understand 12″ EP, one being Ambition by Vic Goddard. Those spoke of a new music that built on post-punk, Joy Division (and really, Never Understand always had a great great Joy Division bassline).

I think a key aspect of these bands is a sense of working with sound itself as their raw material. It’s this sense of crafted sound which is crucial. If one listens to the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen or New Order in their earliest days (and many others, from Modern Eon onwards), the found sounds were key to their music. Snippets of taped industrial processes that sounded unbelievably cold and detached to 18 year old ears in 1983. This was music given an additional dimension by such sounds. Did it mean anything? Well, as all music does when one is younger, it meant everything and nothing, providing an auditory map of a world yet to be experienced. But with this came a sense that music shouldn’t necessarily be ‘easy’, that melody was important but it wasn’t everything. That sounds could mirror and represent emotions that are difficult or sometimes impossible to articulate. That music can’t just be about escape, but sometimes is the best way to embrace or engage with the broader environment and give it an aesthetic reading.

Maybe that’s why two decades later I still listen avidly to this genre, still find some space, some dimension within it. In part it’s about not growing up, and in part it’s precisely about growing up and matching the thoughts and emotions of one period of life to another

Meanwhile, next week just why is it that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are so rubbish?

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1. Starkadder - April 26, 2008

And now, the alternative rock programme, hosted by
Tom Dunne, Michelle Doherty, and Worldbystorm.

The shoe-gazing movement…I remember My Bloody
Valentine vaguely, and I think Curve were associated with
the movement when they started out. I think British
music historians have neglected the bands which appeared
between “Madchester” and Britpop, like the shoegazing
bands, The Wonderstuff, Carter USM,Pop Will Eat
Itself, etc.

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2. WorldbyStorm - April 26, 2008

Curve were indeed associated with shoegaze. Their first album was a cracker. I liked the Wonderstuffs last album a lot. PWEI, were great early on. I saw them around 92/3, but had lost touch with the music they produced during that period. I should get a greatest hits of theirs with their later material…

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3. Dec - April 27, 2008

WBS, Serena Maneesh – incredible album.

As for the Wonderstuff I went right off them when that fiddler took over the band after HUP, still, one of my favorite ever songs is Ruby Horse.

MBV, with the exception of Soon, I thought were an overrated pile of turd.

Other shoegazing goodies included the Ferment Album from Catherine Wheel.

A notable mention must also go to the Boo Radleys incredible Giant Steps from that period.

But the most exciting musical development this millenium is the reformation of the World Greatest Band Ever, at the Electric Picnic That Petrol Emotion return to the stage after 14 years…….resting.

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4. McGazz - April 27, 2008

I like the Lights Out Asia track. If you like that, you might like Junior Boys – similar, but less shoegazey and more Canadian.

If only Autotune had existed in the shoegaze era – they could have done so much with it ;-)

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5. Wednesday - April 27, 2008

Ah, shoegaze. I used to love this stuff. Some of it still sounds great. My own tastes were always a bit off the mainstream of it though (e.g. I preferred Isn’t Anything to Loveless, Everything’s Alright Forever to Giant Steps and I still maintain that Slowdive were boring as fuck). Will have to check all these bands out, thanks WBS.

Minor point for Starkadder, the Wonderstuff and PWEI preceded Madchester.

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6. WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2008

Dec, couldn’t agree more SM is brilliant. And there are hints too of the Pixies in there as well. Giant Steps I loved and then sort of didn’t although I still think Lazarus is astounding (Ireland’s Rollerskate Skinny were ploughing a similar furrow). MBV, I’m absolutely with Wednesday on this. Isn’t Anything is much better than Loveless, I find Loveless easy to listen to but hard to love (bar Soon and When You Sleep). It tends to slide by. Catherine Wheel were pretty good. I have Ferment on vinyl so I rarely get around to it, and I’m trying to source it on CD or digital. I’d probably argue that Chapterhouse’s second album (which fled to the dance hills), Sundials first, Curves first, early Lush, Moose, Seefeel (who were only tangential) and Swervedrivers first were my absolute favourites with all else secondary i.e. MBV, etc, etc. Re Slowdive, well it’s a curates egg. The first album has some lovely sweeping tracks, but it’s also a bit dull in parts. I’ve never heard Souvlaki station. Did anyone know that All About Eve went all shoegaze on their difficult third album?

McGazz, thanks a million for the tip.

Anyone got PWEI’s first album from 86/87 on CD? It’s tasteless but amazingly evocative of that first wave of dancey/hip hop crossoever stuff.

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7. Wednesday - April 27, 2008

I’ll copy Ferment for you. I love that album.

Pale Saints were another great band in this genre, at least for the first album which was my favourite of the year it was released (1990 I think?). In the US there was Galaxie 500, Ultra Vivid Scene, the Lilys, the Swirlies and Smashing Orange.

Didn’t care at all for Chapterhouse’s second – and I’m on the opposite side to you in the Ride v Curve debate :)

The only PWEI I have is Now For A Feast, which is really quite C86-ish.

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8. WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2008

Brilliant… cheers.

Pale Saints (slaps head!). Their first album was great. Ultra Vivid Scene were brilliant too. Three incredibly cohesive albums. Galaxie 500 I never really got into. Just never heard them. The Lilys and the Swirlies I know and have albums by (actually Yo La Tengo did the shoegazy thing too in a way… much to their credit :) ). Smashing Orange I don’t know.

Ah, Chapterhouse. I was moving into a love of electronica so the approach they were taking was great to my ears. If you didn’t like that you’ll probaby really hate the remix of it by Global Communication which pretty much removed all hint of Chapterhouse as they reworked it into something a bit like the Orb, but better, much better.

Haven’t heard that PWEI album, I have Box Frenzy on vinyl which was a year before, wasn’t it?

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9. Wednesday - April 28, 2008

Galaxie 500 were probably the most iconic American shoegaze band so I’m quite surprised you never heard them (particularly if you have Lilys and Swirlies albums!). But not to worry, I’ll fix that for you :) You didn’t miss much with Smashing Orange, once decent album but nothing special.

Good point about Yo La Tengo although they never really were a shoegaze band per se. I suppose Low could sort of fit in there too.

Not sure re the sequence of PWEI albums, I would have thought the one I have was pretty early (there’s a song on it that has a go at the Mary Chain for their obsession with candy…)

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10. Wednesday - April 28, 2008

Not sure how that last smiley got in there!

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11. WorldbyStorm - April 28, 2008

Yeah Galaxie 500 is a weird one. For some reason I pegged them as having a countryish tinge which at the time I didn’t like. This was pure speculation on my part, I blame Melody Maker, but you know how a musical direction is based on inferences and connections…

Meanwhile, x number of years later alt.country came along and I liked it which made me reassess much else afterwards. Incidentally, speaking of alt.country Josh Rouse’s first couple of albums had a very indie streak to them…

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12. Wednesday - April 29, 2008

MM probably didn’t know what to make of Galaxie 500 and decided American, mellow, must be country.

Never got into alt.country myself.

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13. Hugh Green - April 29, 2008

Spacemen 3 anyone?

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14. WorldbyStorm - April 29, 2008

Funny you should ask Hugh. I like them, but don’t particularly love them. I preferred the Darkside, a spin-off from them, and Spectrum. I know I *should* love them, and I admire some of their songs very much. But yeah, they’re also in the zone.

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15. This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Serena-Maneesh « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 24, 2010

[...] Be Listening to…. trackback I referenced these guys a couple of years back in a long post on shoegaze… ah, those were the [...]

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