The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'shoegazer'
This week, the formerly unthinkable happened: My Bloody Valentine released a follow-up to Loveless, simply titled m b v. It took them 21 years, and not much was heard of it until they announced that they finished mastering it late last year, on Mayan Apocalypse Day, and announced its announcement a few days before it came out. Anyway, you can buy it from their web site, either as a download or a download plus CD or vinyl, though I suspect that if you were holding out for a new MBV album, you have already done so.
The album itself follows on from Loveless, though diverges somewhat. It sounds like they've spent the first part of their exile from recording listening to a lot of other music; I imagine that I hear the influences of Stereolab and The High Llamas in a few songs (Is This And Yes sounds almost like it's a Beach Boys harpsichord line away from being a Llamas song), and he album ends with a track built up on a chopped-up Amen break through a flanger, a bit like that drum'n'bass thing that was big some 15 years ago. One gets the impression that this is not so much new material as material that has been in the works for two decades, finally wrapped up to make way for new material.
Meanwhile, in VICE, John “Menk” Doran posits the claim that MBV's absence from music-making is to blame for the rise of Tony Blair, the Iraq War and the grim meathook dystopia we're living in today. Presumably if Shields had hurried up, Britpop would have never happened and a charlatan like Blair could never have ridden on its Beatles-quoting, Union Jack-festooned coattails into No. 10, and thus we'd be living in a socialist utopia of some sort. (Either that or perpetual unvarnished Thatcherism, of course.)
When C17th Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” he was thinking about Kevin Shields. For when MBV hung up their guitar pedals at the height of their fame, a terrible power vacuum yawned open. The field was clear to stripey-tousered, juggling wazzocks like the Wonderstuff and lycra wearing buffoons Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine to become famous – when in a more civilised age you wouldn’t even have bothered to cross the road to set fire to them. The absence of the most forward looking guitarist of his generation in the early 90s, also led to a slew of appallingly boring shoe-gaze copyists such as Chapterhouse and Slowdive, meaning guitar music was literally anyone’s for the taking.
This meant, the retro-head guitar owners got their first look in since the late 60s. Suddenly making your guitar sound like a sighing whale wasn’t an option any more, all the FX pedals and psychedelic drugs were swapped for Kinks riffs, cocaine and talking like a brickie from Bermondsey. Utter bullshit like Blur and Menswear were hailed as heroes.(I don't agree with him on Slowdive, but he's on the money about Blur and Menswear, and much of the rest of Britpop.)
If only it had stopped there, though. Britpop itself ushered in the Cool Britannia era which erased the social and sonic progressiveness of the 1970s and 1980s in one fell swoop and culminated in the morally blank New Labour administration. (It is important to note that as soon as Tony Blair was ensconced into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, the first thing he did was to summon Alan McGee and Noel Gallagher, the singer of Creation’s biggest signings Oasis, to visit him. He wanted to be sure that Kevin Shields’ amazing drum and bass records would never see the light of day – literally the only thing that could have threatened his premiership at that point.)
Something Awful looks at the recent reissue of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, which Kevin Shields spent the last four years remastering:
So what can My Bloody Valentine fans expect from the long-awaited Loveless reissue? Bliss. Like, it's totally, you can't even describe. It's like a migraine made of vicodin, man. It's like the aurora borealis, but made of guitars, and you're getting blown by a cherub (made of guitars). Imagine you're overdosing on Xanax inside God's vagina, and there are some guitar sounds related to that. It's like, the original was pure sonic perfection, but this is like, even more perfect? Because there's more presence and most assuredly some additional warmth.
And what can the rest of us expect? Well, the original album consisted of some murmuring, plus lots of guitars and some more guitars. Now, thanks to miraculous new mastering technology, it's louder. According to Kevin Shields himself, the first disc of the reissue is exactly the same as the 1991 release but with the volume turned up; the second disc, freshly mastered from the original analogue tapes, sounds almost exactly like the first disc. Read the interview yourself and try to tell me that's not what he said.It's amazing how much effort is spent on preserving “heritage rock” artefacts (and surely MBV are slowly but surely heading into that ossified canon, as the kids for whom they were a formative experience head into middle age, with an acute awareness of the fleetingness of youth and the disposable income to scrabble desperately against it); almost as if one's teens and twenties were as close as one got to being one's true self, and everything that followed was an anticlimax, a betrayal of oneself and an awful compromise with the crushing forces of boring adulthood on the long slog to the grave. So we cling on to our youth (which, as time goes by, becomes increasingly represented by a collage of the consumer products consumed during it), spending money on doing so, and some of that money goes to pay Kevin Shields to spend four years making Loveless sound slightly louder.
The article goes on to reveal some of the features of the new reissue:
Many listeners have noted a jarring digital glitch present in the remastered "What You Want," which may seem like a significant oversight in a project that's been in the works for four years. However, it's actually an Easter egg for dedicated fans: when slowed down a bit, the glitch is actually over thirty hours of shelved My Bloody Valentine music from Kevin Shields' various abortive attempts at a Loveless follow-up.
Thanks to the overall loudness boost of the new mastering job, playing "Sometimes" at high volumes reveals the repeated brittle snap of Kevin Shields breaking off tremolo arm after tremolo arm and yelling "for the love of god, will somebody please fucking bring me more tremolo arms," followed by the sound of engineer Alan Moulder crunching through piles of fallen tremolo arms like so many autumn leaves and creakily screwing a new tremolo arm onto Kevin's long-suffering Jazzmaster even as he continues to bash out wobbly chords.
Today, the Guardian's New Band Of The Day is Tamaryn, a San Francisco-based duo very much in a shoegaze/dreampop vein. The article, for some reason, takes the angle of drawing a dichotomy between Jimi Hendrix' guitar sound (said to be influential, though not really) and the MBV/Cocteau Twins sound (which can be heard everywhere these days).
The song titles – Choirs of Winter, Haze Interior, Cascades – are almost shoegaze parodying, but it's not all formless FX pedal fondling. Dawning, in particular, stands out as a fab pop song, like Slowdive doing a Fleetwood Mac cover. Stevie Nicks – now there's someone else who's been more influential than Hendrix lately.I can vouch for the new Tamaryn album, The Waves; if you're into the Cocteau Twins, Curve or Ride, you could do worse than to give them a listen.
Also in the Graun recently: a piece on the 30th anniversary of the 4AD label, the seminal post-punk label whose monochromatic record sleeves and understatedly expressionistic records adorned the homes of the more sophisticated goths of the 1980s, alongside black and white poster prints and VHS tapes of Fritz Lang movies. Now, of course, it's no longer Ivo Watts-Russell's personal label but the Matador group's boutique imprint, though is still home to interesting artists.
WIRED talks to Neil Halstead about the recent resurgence of interest in shoegazer, and it appears that he's still not keen to be part of it:
Halstead: No, there are no plans to get Slowdive back together. We had a lot of pedals, a lot of love and some good grass. When the love ran out, we sold the grass and smoked the pedals.The article also mentions an upcoming documentary on shoegazer titled Beautiful Noise, whose production company's page is here, though contains nothing other than a rather apposite-looking graphic.
Much has been said about the legacy of David Lynch's Twin Peaks; now WIRED has a piece on the series' musical legacy, specifically on the shoegazer genre:
The series made a major impact, admitted Swervedriver front man Adam Franklin recently to me during an interview on the reunion of bands from the late '80s and early '90s, including those who have yet to announce a comeback. "Everyone was watching that show," Franklin says. "Angelo Badalamenti had a huge influence on the shoegaze sound."
Meanwhile, Cocteau Twins' architect Robin Guthrie and ambient composer Harold Budd's score for the underrated 2004 film Mysterious Skin sounds like it came right out of the Twin Peaks playbook. But the feedback loop isn't that simple: The Cocteau Twins collaborated much earlier with Budd on the 1986 classic The Moon and the Melodies, whose haunting, majestic track "She Will Destroy You" sounds like it was specifically built for Laura Palmer. And it's well-known that Lynch was a dedicated fan of the Twins before Twin Peaks existed. He made it official when he inserted This Mortal Coil's chilling "Song to the Siren," ethereally delivered by Cocteau Twins vocalist Elizabeth Fraser, into his 1997 film Lost Highway.
And on: L.A.-based Hypnagogia Films is working on a documentary about the shoegaze sound, called Beautiful Noise, and has conducted scores of interviews with My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins and many more bands from the either side of that splendid period. Hypnagogia principals Eric Green and Sarah Ogletree recently told me in an interview that they are hard at work chasing down Lynch for a chat, one that may put the puzzle of the period together for them at last.
In today's Grauniad, Jude Rogers looks at the shoegazer revival:
Ulrich Schnauss, the 29-year-old DJ whose dreamy second album Goodbye came out in June, thinks this escapism is vital to shoegazing's appeal. He comes from the north German outpost of Kiel, a dull town that he saw as the equivalent of Reading, home to Halstead's Slowdive. "Too much music these days is about how bad these towns are, about everyday life, and all the dull details. Shoegazing is a way out of that - there's melancholy in it, but lots of heaven there too." He thinks people connect with dreamy music more in times of world crisis, and points out how psychedelic music has flourished during the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. "It's music that offers a much more profound way of trying to cope with a bad world, isn't it? Offering hope rather than breaking your guitar and shouting 'fuck you!'"
Still, images like these won't help change the minds of detractors. It doesn't help that Alan McGee, the man who signed Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive to Creation, is its most vehement critic. "Bloody nonsense. My Bloody Valentine were my comedy band. Ride were different - they were a rock band, really, a fantastic rock band - but My Bloody Valentine were a joke, my way of seeing how far I could push hype." Although he said Shields was a genius in the Guardian in 2004, he now says, unconvincingly, that the revival is just people still buying his lies.It's interesting that the two genres of independent music antithetical to the mainstream currently undergoing revivals—indiepop (as per an earlier article by Rogers) and shoegazer— are largely separate worlds. Having lived in London for most of the past 3 years and attended both shoegazer nights (Club AC30, Sonic Cathedral) and indiepop nights (How Does It Feel To Be Loved (which, incidentally, has a "no shoegazer" policy on its music) and Spiral Scratch) nights, I've noticed that very few of the people who go to one kind of night go to the other.
MP3Hugger has a roundup of what happened to the various members of Slowdive after the band broke up, along with MP3s from their various projects. It seems that their bass player, Nick Chaplin, has disappeared without a trace, while the other ex-members are continuing various projects.
Also via No Rock&Roll Fun, the Bluffer's Guide to Sophisti-pop. Everything you need to know about a genre of ultra-smooth, aspirational Thatcherite synth-jazz-pop, spawned from the New Pop begotten by post-punk/new-wave, that flourished in the mid-1980s, and is nonetheless a whole lot less aurally offensive than most things labelled "smooth jazz". And here is an article about sophisti-pop and what fits into it.
Robin Guthrie, the guitar-pedal wizard from the Cocteau Twins and pioneer of all things swirly and æthereal, has now had a hand at filmmaking. You may not be surprised to find that his first film appears to be the visual equivalent of his music:
It has been exhaustively assembled with the same craft which Robin has used in the sonic world for years, an interweaving and layering of images, creating distinct moods which are reflected by the music being played - "improvised within the framework; dictated by the visuals", relying on layers of treated guitars, textures and sumptuously cyclic melodies"From what I hear, Lumière is basically swirling, dissolving blurs of coloured light. And it comes with Guthrie playing a live soundtrack on guitar.
1990s shoegazer band Secret Shine (who were fellow Bristolians Sarah Records' foray into the Scene That Celebrated Itself) are back. They have a web site, a new EP (which is said to be pretty good), and have put up MP3s from one of their live gigs for the downloading. For those who want to catch them live, they're going to be doing a few gigs, including one at London's Club AC30 in July and a few US dates later in the year.
According to this page, Slowdive's three albums are about to be rereleased in remastered form. Just For A Day and Souvlaki come with bonus discs, containing EP tracks and, in the latter case, bonus tracks from the US edition. Their last album, the glorious Pygmalion is a single disc with no extras, though it's good to see it see the light of day again.
It would have been nice to see some of Slowdive's unreleased demo/outtake tracks (such as the "Souvlaki Demos" and "Pygmalion Demos" that have been floating around; the latter show an electronic sparseness that prefigured the likes of M83 and Ulrich Schnauss), though I'm not complaining. Also, given the fact that it's on Castle and not Sony (who owns the back-catalogue), chances are it won't evil your computer.
Tonight, some 10 years after the Blur vs. Oasis battle, BBC Four held a Britpop night, running several programmes on the whole thing.
First up was a half-hour documentary by John Harris about the history of the phenomenon. It reprised much of the territory in his excellent book The Last Party, only squeezed into half an hour and with fragments of music and video, and interviews with various people from the time reminiscing over what it was like. It started with the wilderness of Nirvana and shoegazer (which Harris described as being similar to grunge), and ended with the comment that Britpop was responsible for ushering in the age of bland balladeers like Coldplay, Keane and Snow Patrol, and of course those quintessential rockist classicists, Oasis.
This was followed by a programme with Damon Albarn presenting a selection of live videos; it's reassuring that he has ditched the mockney accent and look-at-me-I'm-working-class affectation, though perhaps a tad disappointing that the title designers did the lazy thing and equated britpop with Mod. Then they played Live Forever, the Britpop doco from some years back, and then a 1995 BBC fly-on-the-wall piece with Pulp, which was rather interesting. It involved backstage footage from a gig in Sheffield, Jarvis talking about appreciating kitsch knowingly yet unironically, and some footage of Pulp's support band, an outfit named Minty who seemed to have been England's answer to Machine Gun Fellatio or something.
The shoegazer movement may have died out in the mid-1990s in most places, but in London, it's alive and well every month at Club AC30. Your Humble Narrator went along to this month's one.
Club AC30 is held at a pub named The Water Rats (presumably after the Australian police soap; I heard that the Poms love Australian TV, but didn't think they'd take it quite this far), not far from King's Cross, and features bands and a DJ.
First up was a Clairecords shoegazer outfit named Air Formation; they took to the stage and proceeded to make a wall of noise not unlike My Bloody Valentine or someone. The sound in the venue, or possibly the mixing, wasn't the best, though, so at times it was hard to tell whether, in fact, the keyboard (a Yamaha CS-1X) was plugged in. Anyway, they were quite good, though I'm not sure if I'll get their CD.
Next up was a Swedish band named Douglas Heart (not to be confused with Douglas Hart, formerly of the Jesus and Mary Chain). They were basically minor-key pop with some shoegazing elements; two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, a Roland D-50 keyboard (wasn't that the one all the gothic-rock bands used in the 1980s or something?), and a female vocalist, who also played melodica and trumpet. Except that the microphones didn't seem to work very well, and half of the time the audience couldn't hear her. Anyway, they sounded a bit like the Cranes or the Sundays or someone; most of their set didn't grab me, but the last song (a stomping number with a great big fuzzy monster bass line) changed my mind.
The third act was Rachel Goswell, someone who gets invited to these things largely on the strength of what she was doing 10 years ago. Her act these days is basically acoustic-guitar folk, much of the sort you could find at any acoustic open-mike night in Fitzroy. For some of the songs of this gig, she had a band with guitar and bass, though her set still contained no shoegazing action whatsoever. She does, though, have a lovely voice. The audience hushed respectfully as she came on (shushing those still talking amongst them), applauded after each song, and called for an encore, which she obliged them with.
Between sets, Ulrich Schnauss DJed, playing a lot of ambient tracks, ranging from shoegazer to electronica; there were some really nice tracks in the mix he played.
A tribute to Slowdive, from a Spanish (?) MP3 label. Confusingly enough, it's called "Blue skyed and clear", which is very close to the Morr Music glitchtronica Slowdive tribute. This one's mostly in a shoegazer vein, though, with bits of glitchy post-shoegaze electronica here and there amidst the processed guitar textures, and some of the tracks are quite good. Pity about the 128kbps MP3s.
When Johnny Cash passed away, I noticed how he had virtually been claimed by the industriogothic scene as One Of Their Own, because of his dress sense and melancholy themes. (Though his covering Nine Inch Nails and Bad Seeds songs probably helped too.) It's funny, as I'm fairly sure that when Siouxsie Sioux and Andrew Eldritch were inventing what was to become 'Goth", they weren't heavily influenced by Johnny Cash, or indeed much country music at all; I doubt that Throbbing Gristle and their ilk were either.
It appears to be a rule that any vaguely dark, ethereal or otherworldly eventually gets lumped into the "Goth" genre, even if it starts life a million miles from goth's tightly circumscribed perimeter. It happened to Depeche Mode (in the 1980s they weren't goth, but now they're Goth As Fuck), and in the U.S. it seems to have partly happened to the shoegazer genre. (In Commonwealth countries, shoegazer is firmly ensconced in the indie-rock tradition, however.)
To wit, a list of artists and genres who might be filed in the "Goth" sections of record shops in 10 years' time:
- Sigur Rós
- Godspeed You Black Emperor, and related outfits; in fact, all gloomy post-rock
- all Norwegian Black Metal
- various German/Austrian laptop glitch techno
And some things you probably won't find filed under "Goth":
- Architecture In Helsinki
- the Dixie Chicks
- The Vines/The Datsuns/Jet
- Kid 606's Missy Elliott mash-ups
I've just been informed that Sydney indie band Swirl have officially broken up.
So what's happening then? Well firstly we should start by finally, officially letting you know that after 12 years in this crazy world of rock, Swirl have finally called it a day. Mind you this had pretty much been on the cards for a while. No major dramas or anything, but it was decided the we'd probably taken the band as far as it could go, and combined with the wide and varied commitments of each of us, trying to continue would be like flogging a dead horse really. We'd held off making an announcement until we were able to decide if doing a final show were feasible, but at the end of the day getting this off the ground was proving to be more and more difficult.
They started 12 years ago, and were sort of the Australian answer to the shoegazer movement, being rather fond of effects pedals, walls of shimmering noise and feedback-drenched rock-outs. Their finest album, IMHO, was 1994's The Last Unicorn. Last year's Light Fill My Room had its moments but was a bit overproduced and MOR in places. Though their live shows were always good.
Anyway, the various members of the band are now working on solo projects in home studios and/or in other bands (David's Unseen, Keira's Sex With Strangers and upcoming electronic solo project and Richard's brief tenure with Spurs for Jesus.) May be something to look out for.
Oh yes, I got Blue Skied An' Clear (the Slowdive tribute CD) in the mail today. I've only listened to part of the first disc so far, and it has its highs and lows. It's rather German and laptoppish and minimal in places, which sometimes works and sometimes not. (As you can imagine, the Pygmalion covers work better than the wall-of-noise shoegazing ones, especially with guessed lyrics sung in high, thickly-accented voices. Manual's cover of Blue Skied An' Clear is particularly nice.)
(And nice to know that the Ulrich Schnauss' approach to Crazy For You is quite different from the one I've been working on for a year or so too...)
I hadn't been going out much, or blogging much for that matter, lately due to work having been rather insane. However, I have been listening to CDs, so here's a list of what I've been listening to lately:
- Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, Bavarian Fruit Bread. The more I listen to this disc, the more it grows on me. The quiet vocals floating sleepily over the subtly muffled guitars, with barely audible brush percussion and the odd xylophone. Very, very lovely.
- Parsley Sound, Platonic Rate; understated, with subtle distorted beats, analogue synths, vintage keyboards and floating, reverbed vocals; rather dreamlike and atmospheric, with perhaps somewhat of a 1960s psychedelia influence in places.
- Malory, Outerbeats. Best known as "that German outfit that tries to be Slowdive", this album goes beyond their influences somewhat. Granted, the Slowdive-circa-Just-For-A-Day influence is obvious (you can pick out specific songs and rhythms there), though they add synth textures and crunchy beats. And it works. Some of the tracks almost edge into Gus Gus territory.
- Which probably prompted me to dig out my copy of the Icelandic chillout outfit's This Is Normal album and give it a spin or two. It's still as good as it was back in 1999 when I picked it up.
- Victor Lancaster, Mr. Mention. Yes, the plastic bucket drummer who plays on the streets of Melbourne; and better than you'd expect it to be. Some of the remixes are particularly impressive.
- The Love Letter Band, Even The Pretty Girls Take Medicine. One of the raft of 555/Red Square indiepop releases I walked away with during one of Stewart and Jen's popfests, and quite a nice one, in a somewhat fey electro-pop vein.
Favourite long-defunct indie bands: It seems to be a bumper time for interviews with ex-Slowdive personnel. recordcamp.com has one with Rachel (now of Mojave 3), where she talks about how she and Neil started jamming in high school, their change of sound, and so on: (via the Avalyn list again)
RG: Pygmalion was released a year after we had recorded it. During that year Neil had moved on musically to doing different things. Had we not been dropped 'Ask Me Tomorrow' would have been the fourth slowdive album. With 'pygmalion' we had experimented with sounds as much as we had wanted to and just wanted to do more 'traditional' tunes and strip everything down.
(I still think that they threw the baby out with the bathwater, but that's just my taste. Maybe one of these days I'll Grow Up, get into Mojave 3, and start frequenting the Country'n'Preston gigs that dot the inner city of Melbourne; or maybe not.)
Anyway, the interview may be found here if the link works; if not, it's also on their main page (a few columns across).
An interesting interview with Christian Saville, former guitarist from Slowdive (and, mercifully, not involved in any sort of alt-country/early-70s-AM-radio-easy-listening act), talking about the rise and fall of Slowdive, the crap state of popular music today, those unreleased Slowdive demos floating around, and his new band, Monster Movie (which is probably more interesting than Mojave 3 anyway). (via the Avalyn list)
The funniest thing I saw recently was on Travis' website, the very first screen you see has photos of their Brit Awards on. That sums the "big" UK bands up. It is revolting. The music is way down the list of priorities for these guys. I don't have a problem with bands getting famous, but some of the bands from Britain right now seem content to be as ordinary, unadventurous, and inoffensive as possible. As for the mercury prize, I don't understand it - it seems like its only function is for Record Company execs to try to seem like they are trendy and for irratating bands to mouth off about how innovative they are for bothering to do an album once every 2 or 3 years. Any award that can list previous winners as M People is totally worthless. I don't want to sound like a moaning bastard, there is plenty going on that I really like. The internet is great for hearing bands. I guess the thing is you have to look a little harder for the interesting things than you did perhaps 10 years ago. I really love 'Yo La Tengo', and 'Stereolab' and they are still around.
Yes. Too bad those RIAA fuckers have been determinedly shutting down all possible sources of interesting music on the Internet (from AudioGalaxy to web radio), one by one.
I had a dream this morning just prior to waking. In it, I ordered a CD single/EP from a semi-obscure independent band from somewhere around Norway or Iceland. (Their name, which escapes me, started with 'C' and they were of an atmospheric/post-rock/shoegazer style. Their artwork used colourised photographs/textures in vivid oranges and blues, with neat typography overlaid.) The CD came with a mail-order catalogue; in it there were various albums/EPs they had out and T-shirts, as well as a new single named "Lily's Song" or something similar. There was also an album of that title, due to come out in 2009, so it must have been a preview. A page of their catalogue also offered a single from The Cure (titled "regret"), for some reason. (Perhaps this dream took place in the future?)