Thursday, 2 September 2010

Shoegazing Origins

Ok, so maybe I lied about doing this every week. How about I modify that to as often as I can. Some of you out there may look at a guy who reviews shoegaze albums and think, “Where's Loveless?” Well, I just won't do it. We all know how classic that album is and when My Bloody Valentine get off their asses to release a new album, I may honor them here with a review. Besides, how could you be arsed to read these entries if you had never heard Loveless before, anyway?

The classic:

Cocteau Twins – Treasure (1984)

I was going to go with a different album, but decided it wasn't obscure enough. Although, it's not as if the Cocteau Twins are very obscure. If you don't know about them, you should. This is also not a shoegaze album. Rather, it is considered “dreampop”, but shoegaze stemmed from dreampop and one listen to this album should show you how the Cocteau Twins most definitely inspired the development of shoegaze a few years later. Atmospheric guitars? Check. Intense dreamy melodies? Check. Indecipherable lyrics? Check. If there are two bands that influenced the genre more than anything, it would be the Cocteau Twins and the Jesus and Mary Chain (I was about to review Darklands, but you've already heard that, right? RIGHT?). The Cocteau Twins lent their melodic pop structures while the Jesus and Mary Chains inspired the wall of guitars that are so prevalent in shoegaze. Listen to this album then listen to Darklands and then check out Black Tambourine from my last entry. Pretty soon you'll be saying, “So THAT's where shoegaze came from!”

The Cocteau Twins started with a ton of gothic influence that slowly faded away with each album. Garlands could easily find a place next to a trenchcoat and black nail polish. The gothic influence fades a bit with Head Over Heels and with Treasure there is only a very subtle hint of it. It feels as if the band matured over each album and this progression really worked for them. They just got better and better. They made the kind of music that gets you thinking, “Where has this been my whole life?” Robin Guthrie is the master of dreamy guitars and Liz Fraser's unintelligible singing adds a level of mystery to the music that sets this band apart from any other. I would be very surprised if you listened to this album and it didn't inspire a feverish hunt to collect all of their music.

The whole album is great from top to bottom, but standouts are “Lorelei”, “Pandora”, and “Aloysius”. “Lorelei” in particular definitely has elements of later shoegaze in it. What does this album get? 9.5/10. Yep.


The new:

Asobi Seksu – Citrus (2006)

Asobi Seksu is a New York based band that has been building a reputation for themselves the past few years. They may not be as obscure as some of the other bands I will be reviewing in the future, but they are far and away my favorite recent shoegaze band. That's why they deserve a review, and of course your attention. This is a band I can credit the online radio Pandora for introducing to me.

For some reason, shoegaze seems like it would fit perfectly with some Asian influence. Asobi Seksu pretty much prove that one. Yuki Chikudate is so freaking cute. I want a cute Asian girl to serenade me with shoegaze everyday. If you couldn't tell, my mind wonders to unmentionable fantasies while I listen to this band. It doesn't help that their name translates roughly to “playful sex” in Japanese (which also fits in very nicely with the music itself). Emotional and playful at the same time, “Asobi Seksu” is the perfect name for them.

Citrus is another good example of how advanced production techniques can improve even a relatively unknown band's sound. The album sounds slick and polished with very clear guitars (yet still with plenty of crunch behind them) and subtle synthesizers. This is also a strange album as it sounds as if each good song that comes on is good only because of sheer luck. Then the next song is even better. That's when I think to myself, “Ok, but the next album will be crap.” I was wrong about that one, too. Hush is even more subtle and intricate (though it borders on straight ahead dreampop rather than shoegaze). Check that out if you dig Citrus. Asobi Seksu really know what they are doing. Standouts are “Strawberries”, “New Years”, and “Thursday”. Ok, well, the whole album really. I give it an 8.5/10.