[Featuring the Haiduks, BrthCtrl, Wood Owls, Weekend, TÅNK and Stellarium.]
Shoegaze is the genre that never really went away. The original scene got stuck in a recursive loop while the rest of alternative rock turned into something completely unrecognizable, populated by fitted ballcap-wearing aggressors with a tendency to abusive the dynamic shifts when not abusing rhyming dictionaries. As grunge rose, fell and was replaced by a succession of increasingly dull roars, shoegaze went into hibernation.
Now that all that unpleasantness is behind us, shoegaze (along with most of the 80s) has stepped back out into the sunlight, even if only metaphorically, as darkened venues are preferable to the harsh glare of unshielded UV rays when it comes to making layered noise. And what better way to celebrate this resurgence than a handpicked compilation of shoegazer tracks, curated by your host with no consideration given to whether these bands even claim the genre as their own or the fact that this “brand-new” resurgence has actually been going on for years.
Without further underselling, here’s the inaugural edition of Miscellaneous Themed Compilations, thrust upon you by your favorite underproductive music blog, Minor Scratches. Keep in mind that this is a 2-part post, and while there won’t be a quiz at the end, there will be door prizes. (Which include, and are limited to, a zip or rar of all the tracks and some handmade cover art.)
This must be what it sounds like in Kevin Shields’ head. All. The. Time. While otherwise normal people (who have never helmed a seminal band whose career culminated in a masterpiece (Loveless) that simultaneously set the bar unreachably high and devoured an entire label) would hear something tunefully fuzzy and a bit askew (like say, Sloan’s Lemonzinger), Kevin Shields, here embodied by the Haiduks, hears looped guitar chords suffering from intense vertigo.
In a word: askew. But pleasurably so. Disorienting but engaging, like taking a ride on a sonic Tilt-a-Whirl in need of repairs but otherwise not life-threatening. Or firing up a worn-out belt drive turntable, only with guitars and such.
As long as our kilter is still a bit off, let’s head into something else delightfully noisy and prone to lurching around like Grandpa in search of some more MD 20/20. This track is so extremely rare that even Writer Mike himself has probably never heard it and I’m pretty sure he’s heard everything that was recorded between 1930 and earlier this afternoon.
BrthCtrl is the (mostly) unrealized, unreleased side project of home crowd favorite rraaiillss, itself a rather Jesus & Mary Chain-y, shoegazey effort. (Some day I’ll have to put together a list of “home crowd favorites” in some sort of order. And then maybe I can rotate them periodically, giving them each a shot as “Blog Mascot,” a title that comes with no prize money or additional accolades. It does, however, come with a fiercely loyal blogger whose lack of frequent updates tends to undermine the positive aspects of having such a blogger in your pocket.)
Unrealized or not, BrthCtrl rocketlurches from the gates with a monumental guitar swoon that seems on the verge of collapse any number of times, pitched to and fro like the drunken love child of MBV’s Only Shallow and Nirvana’s Radio Friendly Unit Shifter before the drums kick in and push it towards MBV’s Soon and most of JAMC’s Honey’s Dead. In other words, great stuff delivered guilelessly by a master craftsman and exclusive as fuck to boot.
Ah, this is nice. A refreshing blast of blasting. Well, in all honesty, it’s probably not “nice” but it certainly is bracing. In order for it to be “nice,” your definition of “nice” would have to be as flexible as my definition of “shoegaze.” This verges on No Wave (No Gaze?) in its single-minded pursuit of noisy guitar anti-heroics.
If the Jesus & Mary Chain met My Bloody Valentine’s pre-Loveless EPs in your garage for a session that would result in your eviction from the Homeowners’ Association, it would sound like this. (But probably only after mastering. [If that even happened. This sounds like 1985 opened a wormhole and shoved this through. Right into your garage. Weird. Try not to drop anything useful in there…] Before any sort of ultra-rough mastering, it would probably sound like this [starting about 5:50]:
So… basically the Wood Owls sound like your Marshall stack invited all the amps it knew to a party in the local bomb shelter WITHOUT TELLING YOU and you only found out because the goddamn bay windows buzzed right the fuck out the frames and collapsed on the ground to the accompanying sound of your voicemail filling up with increasingly profane noise complaints.)
What’s that about a “life worth living?” Pish and of course Posh. Weekend have brought the noise and are shaking things loose from your skull, waking you up just to tell you that they’re going to sleep for a long, long time.
Sometimes life’s what you make of it and sometimes it’s the parts that pass you by that affect you the most. Let’s sleep it off. Good luck sleeping, though! Oh, sure. It starts quietly enough. The drums kick in and there’s not much more than forward motion for a short while. But then the feedback kicks in, riding alongside a guitar set to “squall” and the pace never lets up, belying the inactivity of the title, but by no means suggesting that Life Is Being Made. You’re going for a ride and Weekend’s in the driver’s seat. We may not end up anywhere but at least we’re moving, am I right?
The guitar heat raises prickly bands of sweat on the back of your neck, perfect for dirt collecting during summer in the city. The feedback arcs and dives but never completely goes away. Fever dream music for the masses.
French one-man-band Christophe Mevel (a.k.a. TÅNK) isn’t normally associated with the shoegazer genre per se, but given the liberties I’m willing to take when arguing from the ear of the beholder (and doing battle with a variety of incomplete metaphors), we’re finding him grouped here despite his more Krautrockian leanings. Sure, this track may edge closer to space than to the introverted gauze of The ‘Gaze, but the necessary signposts are there. Manipulated guitars straining at the leads, surging on the backs of a theoretical “shitload” of effects pedals. Drumwork that propels, underpins and otherwise sets the pace (and the controls) to the heart of the sun while the surrounding swirl renders the rhythm section’s best intentions worthless – an enveloping fog that makes directional sense completely theoretical and as least as accurate as the old guy at the gas station who reeks of distilled Aqua Net and a lifetime of regrets.
Still, you’ll feel a bit more thump than shoegazing is accustomed to, but don’t worry, we won’t suddenly be taking a left into Germany’s idea of what rock should sound like if it’s not being played by The Scorpions. Instead, we’ll take a pulsing meander into the spacier side of shoegaze, which is at least as enjoyable as it sounds. And as to what exactly a “pulsing meander” sounds like? Two options: a.) TÅNK and b.) someone reaching the end of their mental thesaurus.
This track is a bargain. Introspective and downcast in the front, pure sonic overdrive in the back, like a wallflower at the dance that springs to elbow-throwing life when the DJ throws MC5 on the turntables. Suddenly, caution is thrown to the wind like so many journals full of overwrought poetry onto the bonfire. Maybe it’s not a party in the true high school drunkfest sense of the word, but it is definitely a Happening.
Going from bruised to bruising about halfway through, Stellarium flex their tonal muscles, which is never just mindless bulk, but rather just “cut” and “ripped,” like an aural Brad Pitt in Fight Club (or an Iggy Pop anytime). [Speaking of which, there is something a tad bit Stooge-ish in the blown-out swagger out the second half of the track…] Lithe but strong enough to make you feel that punch for the next several weeks. The build is as important as the release, setting you up for a series of uppercuts by lulling you into dropping your guard.
That’s it for this session. Part Two is on the way, featuring some more hazy instrumentation and effects pedaling, as well as a (probably) welcome shift in tone and tempo. (I originally typed that in as “shit in tone and tempo” and was EXTREMELY tempted to leave it that way. Now that you’ve been inside my head for a moment, allow me to gesture vaguely at the exits here, here and here. Feel free to drop back in any time. The door is always open. Or missing completely…)