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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.
15 comments

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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