Tag Archives: shoegaze

Things We Liked in 2023 (Tough Love Edition)

Continuing our avoidance of year-end lists to, instead, highlight our favorite 2023 releases from labels we like…

This column focuses on London’s Tough Love label, which put out much that wasn’t difficult to enjoy in 2023, including these (particular) favorites:

Rat Columns, Babydoll.  Yes, Virginia, the year 2023 saw the return of Rat Columns, the currently Perth-based musical project helmed by David West, with Babydoll – the band’s first output for 2 years.  The new long-player showcases Rat Columns’ languorous, jangly side familiar to those (like us) who drooled over 2019’s Candle Power, while also layering in tighter, more muscular tracks, all the while maintaining West’s ear for melody.  The shoegaze swoop of beguiling opener, ‘Cerulean Blue’, sets a high bar, reminiscent of early EPs MBV or a distorted Lemonheads.  Elsewhere, strings and heavily strummed acoustics add tints of psych to should be future classics like the achingly lovely ‘December’.  Just for kicks, the band sprinkles in some crystalline synthpop over the feedback rushes of ‘Bees Make Honey’.  Well worth the wait.

Highlights include:  ‘Cerulean Blue’; ‘December’; ‘Heavenly Assault’.

Empty Country, Empty Country II.  This album was my introduction to Empty Country, for me, having somehow missed their first album.  No matter – it’s been enjoyable making up for lost time, and II has quickly become a favorite.  Even for one not typically attracted to big, heart on sleeve (dare I say, at times even Springsteenian) rock, the sheer, wrought righteousness of this set could not be denied.  Fronted by Joseph D’Agostino (formerly of Cymbals Without Guitars), the band is an absolute powerhouse.  The middle trio of ‘David’, ‘Dustine’ (personal favorite) and ‘Syd’ are hair-raisingly good.  It’s a fantastic ride, both cozily familiar and novelly exciting, with strains of Bowie, Patty Smith, Television, The Replacements.  Who the fuck is Jeff, indeed. 

Highlights include:  ‘Dustine’; ‘Pearl’; ‘Bootsie’.

Cindy, Why Not Now?.  San Francisco’s Cindy has quietly been releasing some of the best lo-fi, jangley indie pop around these past few years, but may have reached a new apex with April’s Why Not Now?  A key word here (hear?) is quiet – though decidedly urban in character and phrase (check the description of the commuter – heels in hand, carrying a Victoria’s Secret bag – in the opening, title track), each song has a hushed, muted quality.  It’s like you’re with the band in the middle of city park – an unusually secluded space where you can sit and really listen, but that can’t keep out the buzz and hum from the madding crowds (‘Wednesday’’s fire truck and car alarms, off in the distance).  Velvet Underground comparisons seem perhaps overly obvious, but useful as a starting point, as is a band like The Clientele (particularly, their early output).  Brilliantly crafted and worthy of close attention.

Highlights include:  ‘Wednesday’; ‘A Trumpet on the Hillside’; ‘Et Surtout’.

Index for Working Musik, Dragging the Needlework for the Kids at Uphole.  I’m always here for it when a band comes from out of nowhere, taps me on the shoulder, and invites me in.  Enter Index for Working Musik, who kindly (and, surely, unknowingly) did just that with February’s excellent Dragging the Needlework for the Kids at Uphole.  If that title has you thinking lysergic moodscapes, hushed vocals, gently menacing guitar work and, here and there, jabs of inspired noise – well, you’re in luck.  Deftly languid, but never sleepy, it’s kind of like one of those cartoon scenes where the main character is drawn along a visual aroma wave, though what’s at the end of this particular trail may not be pie or a roast chicken.  Highly recommended.

Highlights include:  ‘Ambiguous Fauna’; ‘1871’; ‘Athletes of Exile’.

Tough Love links:  website; fbook; twitter (still don’t care); insta; bandcamp.

Check Out “No More Summer Songs”, from Phantom Handshakes

Phantom Handshakes, No More Summer Songs (Z Tapes)

[‘A Secret Life’ appears on our “Run and Find Out” playlist on Spotify, while ‘Skin’ can be found on our latest playlist, “Still, There Was Truth In It”]

Phantom Handshakes are the New York-based duo of Federica Tassano (also of the band Sooner) and Matt Sklar. Their debut full-length, No More Summer Songs, was recently sent forth into the world, and it’s an exquisitely delivered set of jangled shoegaze and dream pop.

In what’s become, I imagine, a depressingly typical scenario in “these COVID times” [Bad Brains ensemble voice], the entire album – as was the case with last spring’s No Better Plan EP – was recorded by Tassano and Sklar separately, but it’s difficult to tell with the depth of musical understanding throughout. It’s a lovely album that – in the way of many of the best albums of the genres from which it is sourced – can burnish, elevate and/or validate a mood. 

From the trepidatious opening chimes of ‘I Worried’, No More Summer Songs sets a melodic course through bands like The Sundays, Sarah Records artists like The Field Mice, The Radio Dept. and newer fellow travelers like Jeanines.  Guitars jangle, basslines reverberate, while Tassano’s vocals convey a cathartic melancholy á la Harriet Wheeler with a hint of the scrape of Karin Dreijer.  Lyrically, the album feels confessional – accepting and letting go of unhealthy thoughts/people – while also touching on societal angst and the feel of the world falling into the proverbial handbasket bound for something other than glory. It’s a forehead pressed to a rain-streaked window, silently contemplating and questioning.

While the album title could be a bit of cheek – given the chosen oeuvre’s predilection for slickers over sundresses – I can’t help but feel that it fits just as well for those desirous of bright sun, white sands and bejeweled waves as for those who enjoy (prefer?) a foggy embrace, sea spray kisses and a bit of a rocky vista.   

No More Summer Songs is out now, courtesy of Z Tapes, with a portion of online proceeds donated by Phantom Handshakes to The Trevor Project

Web: label, bandcamp, insta, and fbook.

Highlights include: ‘Skin’; ‘A Secret Life’; ‘This Shade’; ‘How to Stay Awake’.

Check Out “Debuts”, from Pop Crimes

Band photo © fanny pommé

Pop Crimes, Debuts (Howlin’ Banana) 

Pop Crimes is a Paris-based quartet who share a name with the title of an album from Rowland S. Howard (RIP), and include members of (amongst others) En Attendant Ana.  Debuts, the band’s appropriately titled first release, is a brilliant four song introduction to a very anglophilic sounding group of francophones. 

On Debuts, Pop Crimes demonstrate a wicked proficiency in fusing the blissful and the barbed –  c86-style jangle and slacker indie, weighted with the crunch of garage and shoegaze and a soupçon of Libertines-like louche swagger.  Perfect example:  the hazy, scuffed pop of ‘Goes’, with antipodean shades of groups like The Church and the swing and swagger of early Ride or The House of Love.  Like the best of bands who wear their collective influences on their sleeves, the set brings fond memories without sounding like mere rehash.  Very much looking forward to hearing what comes next.  

Debuts was released in January, courtesy of Howlin’ Banana – allez, go pick it up!

Web: bcamp fbook label

Higlights include: ‘Goes’; ‘Always Lover’

Songs for a “Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness”, or Something – Enjoy!

New lists, featuring some of our favorite tracks carried along the blustery drafts of the changing seasons.

The first:

And, if you dare, a sequel:

New (To Me!) Band of the Day: Britain

 

First things first: I count myself a massive Cocteau Twins fan.  So much so that when I read/hear bands compared sonically or otherwise with them, it’s met with a healthy skepticism.  Few, either during the contemporaneous rise of dream pop and shoegaze or during their more recent revivals, seem to match the visceral thrill, the desolate euphoria, gleaned from the original.  While I grew to like many of these bands over time it was in spite of, rather than due to, their supposed level of “Cocteausiness”.

Which leads me to Britain, the duo of Joey Cobb and Katie Drew that I recently stumbled across (thanks to an email blast from the good folks over at Heavenly).  They come bearing Cocteau comparisons – and it’s easy enough to see why on first listen to the demo for track, “Day by Day”:  the glistening guitar cascades, crisp drum machine patter, even an ending that sounds as though the song’s been suddenly unplugged – it’s all there.  Yet, in spite of my decidedly caveat emptor approach to such things, I was immediately swept up and carried off by “Day by Day”.

Much of this is down to Drew’s vocal performance, which matches not only the wispy end of Elizabeth Fraser’s delivery but, more importantly, its soulfulness.  So, yes, it does sound like the Cocteaus – but “Day by Day” is no mere pastiche.  The light and dark in the track’s woozy melody gives a feel like the reveal of sun through a slowly lifting fog.  It’s also incredibly fully-formed for a ‘demo’ – so hopefully, if included on their forthcoming debut, it won’t be messed with.  A second track, “Tried to Call”, can be heard by watching their “Stay Fresh” session over at theskinny.  Building from a similar 4AD building block, “Tried to Call” ratchets up the psych in a way that reminds of Lost Souls-era Doves (a band Britain name check as an influence in the corresponding interview).

Per the bio on fbook and the twitt, Britain are currently working on their debut, which will be released on Heavenly.  Stay tuned, and catch them out on tour with Jane Weaver this autumn in the UK (dates here).

Rush Headlong Into “Midnight Junkie”, by Brooklyn’s Baked. New Album, “Farnham”, Out Now on Exploding in Sound.

Baked, “Midnight Junkie” (Exploding in Sound)

This just in from the local weather bureau – a.k.a., my window.  It’s windy. I mean like, shit is creaking and banging and I don’t even know what it is windy.  It’s also wondrously sunny – like, over-exposed 9mm film of an old road trip sunny.

So, as I’m sitting here, squinting and expecting the Wicked Witch of the West to cycle by any moment, I stumble upon this gem of a track – “Midnight Junkie”, by Brooklyn five-piece Baked – and it all clicks.  The track is a magnificent howl, with a glowing melody at its heart that leaves you seeing spots and a guitar shred at around 2 minutes like they don’t make much of anymore, all held tenuously earthbound by a dolorous, Jim Reid-esque croon.  It’s the perfect aural accompaniment to the arboreal bowing and scraping taking place outside under the watchful glare of an ever nearing fireball.

“Midnight Junkie” is taken from Baked’s latest long-player, Farnham, which was released last week on Exploding in Sound and which I can’t wait to dig further into.  If you’re headed to SXSW, you can catch Baked at the Exploding in Sound showcase March 16 at The Velveeta Room.  Follow Baked on fbook bandcamp and the twitt.

Glitter Veils Share “Gossamer Folds” and “Soft Touch” from Forthcoming Figures in Sight.

Glitter Veils, “Gossamer Folds”; “Soft Touch” (Flexible)

Photo credit: Savvy Creative.

 

Australian duo Luke Zahnleiter and Michael Whitney make music as Glitter Veils.  Their album, Figures in Sight, is due this Friday (2/10) from Flexible Records (an imprint of Terrible), who have been kind enough to provide teasers in the form of “Gossamer Folds” and “Soft Touch”.

A pleasantly disorienting, almost vertiginous, feel wafts from these tracks.  Like a liquid motion toy’s suspended, colored drops fusing, detaching, and reforming in slightly different ways, familiar threads – the Guthrie-esque guitar wash in ‘Gossamer Folds’; the early industrial heft to the programmed beats underpinning the peyote-fueled western glitter ball of ‘Soft Touch’; a dream pop feel here, a bit of JAMC menace there; whispered, droning vocals reminiscent of Spacemen 3 or Massive Attack – blend, separate and reconvene in novel ways.  “Gossamer” is my personal favorite, its bent guitar lines, slightly ooky fun house-style synths and lurching beat tracing lazy arcs in the sky.  Definitely looking forward to hearing the rest.

You can find (a bit) more things Glitter Veils on soundcloud and fbook.  Figures in Sight can be pre-ordered now on Flexible’s bandcamp page.  Tune in, drop &etc.

“Wherever You Are”, by LA’s Winter, Is a Dream Pop Wish Upon a Star

Winter, “Wherever You Are” (self-released 8/18/16)

LA’s Winter is a musical project of vocalist/guitarist Samira Winter, with recording and live work from David Yorr, Garren Orr and Matt Hogan.  “Wherever You Are” is a new release from the band – with it, they’ve crafted a woozy, sinuous track fit snugly at the intersection of psych- and dream pop.

Opening with a kaleidoscopic, Vangelis-like keyboard intro, “Wherever” features Winter’s feather light, whispered vocals amid arpeggioed, thrumming guitar lines and layered effects, all building towards an absolute skyscraper of a chorus.  Musical sign posts abound, from ones you might expect (Pale Saints, Cocteau Twins (the phaser/delay effect at the 3:45 is particularly Guthrie-esque), MBV, the airier edge of trip hop), to some you might not (there’s hints of the more wide open, arena ready psych of Spiritualized, as well as a something that reminded me of “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd).

The notes on the group’s Bandcamp page indicate the song was initially recorded in the singer’s bedroom.  This makes sense, as there’s a feeling here akin to staring out of the window into the night sky, searching for answers or a new way.  Goodnight, (dark side of the) moon.

“Wherever You Are” is available to download (for $1!) via Bandcamp.  From some of the posts on Winter’s fbook page (you can also check them on the twitt), it would appear the band is at work on a new full length.  Here’s hoping.

Something Borrowed, Something New: Anywhere, from Chicago’s Cassettes on Tape

Cassettes on Tape, Anywhere (self-released, 7/14/16)

We love a band that wears their influences proudly.  Cassettes on Tape is a four-piece hailing from Chicago, with a declared fondness for “shoegazy guitars and new wavey hooks”.  On their new long-player, Anywhere, the band stays true to their school(s).

Anywhere finds the band taking a musical journey through mid-80s to mid-90s indie music, recalling everything from 80s ‘college radio’, new wave, shoegaze, early 90s indie pop and even britpop.  It’s a wide range of (admittedly intertwined) sounds, and the band pulls it off by writing hook-filled tunes played with a super-charged emotion.  Jangling, resonant guitars courtesy of lead guitarist Shyam Telikicherla build epic sound scapes to match the dramatic vocals of singer Joe Kozak, who comes off like a cross between Suede’s Brett Anderson (minus the falsetto) and a less raspy Richard Butler of the Psych Furs.  Songs like album highlight “Shattered” manage to marry 80s indie restraint to Britpop rafter rattling, while “Modern Love” carries an “I Am the Resurrection” shuffle.  While the hi nrg tracks are great, the lovely slow burn of “Diamonds” and “Liquid Television” (above) are equally satisfying.  Great stuff.

Anywhere is out now, and available through the Cassettes on Tape Bandcamp page.  You can also check them out on the fbook, the twit and Instagram (don’t have a ‘witty’ shortcut reference for that one…yet).  The band also have a show coming up on August 5 at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago – check it out if you’re local.

Listen to “Held”, the latest from Melbourne’s Lowtide, and Bliss Out

Lowtide, “Held” (Opposite Number)

We loved “Wedding Ring”, the first taster of the forthcoming debut album from Melbourne’s Lowtide.  Now, we’re hearing “Held” for the first time (the band shared the track back in 2014), and we’ve fallen in love all over again.  [Our thanks to the always great The Line of Best Fit blog for the initial introduction.]

Since we never got off our duff long enough to write about “Wedding Ring” when we first heard it a few months ago, let’s rectify that first. The track is truly massive, channeling the epic end of the shoegaze/dreampop spectrum – think later period Cocteau Twins (the phased guitars are charmingly Guthrie-esque) and bands like Pale Saints and Slowdive – with an uptempo groove and a bridge at the 1:40 mark that, if it doesn’t make you smile and/or tear up, you should seek immediate medical attention.

“Held” is no less grand, even while seemingly a bit less epic.  Wtf?, you may say.  Our explanation lies in the layers underneath the skyscraping boy/girl vocal tradeoffs. Where “Wedding Ring” started from a lush, shogazed underpinning, “Held” feels like the kind of anthemic, later period post-punk that wasn’t afraid to pin its heart to its denim jacketed sleeve – we’re thinking here of past greats like the brilliant Chameleons, Pink Turns Blue, and Brighter Than a Thousand Suns-era Killing Joke, on through to new bands like another thegrindinghalt fave, Communions.   The upper register is no less blissful, but the slow burning guitar and absolutely churning rhythms here provide a bit of cloud cover to an otherwise purely sun-dappled experience.

Opposite Number Records will release the band’s debut full length on August 5.  In the meantime, you can check out the band’s fbook, Bandcamp and SoundCloud pages for news and other music.