Æ: Aglet Eaters

Sway – Whirr

Posted in Album, Discover, Review by R on October 4, 2014



Les critiques de Sway le déclarent une abomination. Pitchfork l’a qualifié d’album « paralysé » dans sa critique incompréhensible et lui a donné 6,9 sur 10 (bien sûr, Pitchfork est lui-même un site web abominable – mais quand même…). Un autre site lui a donné 4 sur 10, disant, je cite, que « Les voix ressemblent plutôt à une murmure et on n’arrive pas à les comprendre. Sans ces voix, cet album transmettrait le même message. »

Evidemment, M. Smith n’a jamais écouté une note de shoegaze.

Moi, je n’ai eu besoin que de 30 secondes de ‘Press’ pour arriver à cette conclusion: nous n’avons pas eu – depuis Guilty of Everything par Nothing – une sortie si belle, si émouvante et si authentique. Comme son prédécesseur, Around, Sway reste fidèle à ses racines – un hommage respectueux aux origines du shoegaze. En même temps – comme dans toutes leurs créations – Whirr apporte son sens de l’actualité – le groupe ne vit pas dans le passé, mais l’amène avec lui, en l’intégrant dans une esthétique contemporaine.

Fidélité – Whirr est une manifestation du genre – de la ‘discorde’. C’est ça l’essence du shoegaze. Je suis sûre que les membres du groupe ne seraient pas d’accord avec moi, mais selon moi la contradiction est le cœur de ce type de musique. Les voix éthérées flottent au-dessus d’un bruit intolérable. Un groupe abrasif crée des chansons d’anges. Les journalistes/bloggeurs – ils n’arrivent pas à réconcilier les deux idées. Nous préférons une vie simple – composée de noir et de blanc. Le genre nous oblige à faire face à la réalité incongrue. Whirr – ils font la même chose.

C’est subjectif, la perception de la musique. Je l’accepte. Sauf que – non, il n’y a aucune doute que Whirr a sorti un album magnifique. Ce qui est ‘subjectif’ est l’interprétation de leurs bouffonneries sur Facebook. Le groupe – M. Basset, en particulier – ne respecte pas le ‘tact,’ et moi, je suis avec lui. Ça lui est égal. Pour Whirr, les fans ne servent à rien, et moi je suis ravie de cette vision. Je ne peux pas exprimer suffisamment mon respect pour des artistes qui créent l’art pour l’art et pas pour les gens. Et Whirr – Ils sont têtus, ils sont orgueilleux, et ils sont arrogants. Mais ils sont honnêtes et rien n’est important pour eux sinon la musique.

C’est ça – l’authenticité.

SULK – Graceless

Posted in Album, Discover, Review by R on May 5, 2013

dat hair

Things I love about SULK:

  1. Their name, my constant state of being
  2. Their hair – moptop (who needs a field of vision, anyway), sideswept (left), sideswept (right), long (enough), rufflable (c’mere, you)
  3. Their sound – brazen and unafraid.

Every review of Graceless out so far can be summarised thus: SULK sound like the Stone Roses.

It’s possibly an oversimplification, but not a lie. In addition to the smoky monkey man vox, Graceless is a firm devotee of the Britpop sound, flaunting crisp guitars, hair-flippable drums, and such flowery song titles as ‘Diamonds and Ashes’, ‘Back in Bloom’ and, well, ‘Flowers’.

The question – in sounding like our Madchester/Britpop/Acid House/C86 heroes – are SULK any good?

The answer – surprisingly – yes.

For eras as revered as these, it’s a wonder their derivatives have never come anywhere close to the original sound. Books and movies and journal articles have all striven to capture the essence of what made Madchester/baggy, acid house, and Britpop the sensations they were. Still, the Britpop offspring, never really captured the sound and were, despite the technicalities of their success, unbearably insipid.

Britpop itself – a style, a scene that based its success on sounding like everything that had come before it – was unselfconscious enough not to suffer from banality. Half of Elastica (the album) may not even have been composed by Elastica (the band), but we still listen to ‘Waking Up’ every morning (‘make a cup of tea/put a record on’). We still sing along to ‘Champagne Supernova’ with the same conviction that Liam instills into Noel’s ‘slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball‘.

That’s the ‘swagger’ everyone talks about – the obnoxious self-confidence with which the blatantly inane and/or unethical are not only forgiven, but celebrated.

GracelessSULK are the first group I’ve come across to have it. While I can’t quite catch any plagiarism on Graceless (apart from the passing similarity between the opening of ‘Marian Shrine’ and German group Selig‘s ‘Ist Es Wichtig’, which I can’t imagine is intentional), and the lyrics seem innocuous enough,  SULK radiate poise and self-assurance. They wind 1989-1994 around their fingertips as if the years were their own creation (no pun intended).

It’s not plagiarism, it’s inspiration – or so I react to ‘Marian Shrine’ (aka ‘Manchild’, for those of you not keeping your eyes on the tracklist) the most Roses-y of the lot. A track that prances around a sticky chorus you’re sure you’ve heard before (“maaaaaan-chiiiiiild!”), completely oblivious to the decade it’s in.

Wait, no, it’s clearly ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that’s the most Roses-y. It’s funny how all of us review types are throwing around the word ‘Madchester’ as if there’s some sort of revival going on, when really SULK only sound (exactly) like one of the three bands that defined the sound. Not a sign of the shameless grooves that made the Mondays or the broody mantras of the Carpets. Again, we’ve got a song that sounds so familiar it hurts – but just try to place it… it can’t be done.

Have mercy – from this whirling opener we’re thrown into the breathless ‘Flowers’ whose endless chorus overflows with all the jingle-jangle and ba-ba-ba’s in the world, ensuring you’ll spin around and around till your head flies off. A little later, a song made up of the ocean – ‘Back in Bloom’ (if your eye’s not on tracklist, you’re hearing this as ‘Black and Blue’). Waves of reverb, waves of ricocheting space-vox, and waves of a chorus that spirals in and out of focus (‘she’ll be back in bloom’).

I didn’t ever expect an album like Graceless to come my way, or even to exist. Nostalgia aside, it’s worth admiring the album for the quality of its production (Ed Buller worked on albums by Suede, Pulp and White Lies – SURPRISE!). It’s also worth noting that, despite their FANTASTIC hair, I am praising SULK on the worth of their music. Graceless must be good.

Screen Vinyl Image – 51:21

Posted in Album, Review by R on April 9, 2013



Something about Screen Vinyl Image is unambiguously vintage.

It could be the name – its resemblance to the authentically ancient Ultra Vivid Scene.

But more likely its the sound. Born out of the far ‘nu’-er Alcian Blue, SVI are unashamedly not so. Ignore any/all reviews/bios calling SVI ‘futuristic’ or ‘contemporary’ or any synonym thereof. Look – they’ve got Bernard Sumner to do vox on ‘Stay Asleep’ – the second track of their latest release*, 51:21, presumably named for the duration of the album (which, fyi, is 51:59)

51:21 opens with the immensely likeable ‘Too Much Speed’ – released as a single a couple of years ago if you were paying attention. A pleasantly noisy pop-tart with a tambourine and a hook, dancing with each other against a backdrop of fuzzy-coarse guitar noise that remains politely out of the way.

Not quite so approachable is the aforementioned ‘Stay Asleep’ which features Gary Chadwick**. There is not a shred of doubt that this track was recorded around the time I was born (probably earlier).


Cross the four minute mark and it’s the scene from Alien – an entirely new creature bursting out of a familiar character. Relentless (analogue) synths push their way out of the placid electropop and drill their way mercilessly into your subconscious. You’ll hear the echoes in your dreams, your veins will throb to the percussion and your ears will tingle with what may be white noise or may be tinnitus.

Barring the closer, we’ve met the rest of these songs before, on The Midnight Sun EP, but they’re worth revisiting. These are the tracks you can see played live while you listen – lights swaying and melting into each other, voices soaked up by carpet and bouncing off concrete, heads bobbing or swaying, eyelids closing, bodies staying rigid.

I’m especially fond of ‘Passing Through Mirrors’ – atypical, no doubt, it lacks the blackness of its comrades, its guitar is very nearly acoustic, it’s got ‘shimmer’ and ‘sparkle’ (are those chimes?), it whistles and it coos, and before it can hypnotise us completely, it curls up into itself and slinks away, leaving us with the unforgiving intro of ’16mm Shrine’ to jolt us back into the dark.

Thinkpiece? Jam session? Composition? Who knows what ’51:21′ was meant to be but its 32 minutes are what take up the 51:21 (51:59?) it’s named after. Live and unedited, it’s whirlpool synths, marching beats, metallic echos, a racing pulse, and even some 8 bit ideas. Our alien friend from ‘Stay Asleep’ also makes an appearance around the 25 minute mark, this time with a classic reverby ‘gaze guitar serving as its foil.

If I had been more timely, I’d have been able to lead you to their bandcamp page so you could pick up 51:21 in Ye Olde Cassette Formatte. Now, however, you’re left with no choice but to direct venomous curses at me as you grudgingly download the digital album.

[*they haven’t]
[**it doesn’t]

Nightmare Air – High In The Lasers

Posted in Album, Review by R on March 27, 2013


So I just wrote this review, right, where I bemoaned the fact that my elitist status was at stake since the music I listened to (throbby droney noisy pneumatic drilly) was more accessible than I had anticipated. Nobody wants the music they like to be universally appealing – if everyone digs what you’re into, how can you be all snobby about it, and if you can’t be snobby about music, then what’s the point of living.

Turns out, I can’t expect elitism with High In The Lasers either. Nightmare Air, feat. Dave Dupuis of Film School (you remember them – they had that superb album, Hideout) is a trio led by a duo (hey man, I’m just reading the onesheet here), and if you thought Film School were easy on the ears, prepare for a whole new level of almost-pop with Nightmare Air.

Don’t immediately distance yourself from this album because I used the P-word. Their video for ‘Icy Daggers’ has Brian Aubert cameo-ing, which should be all you need to understand what kind of ‘pop’ we’re talking about here.

Cameos aside, High in the Lasers is all kinds of ridiculous in the repeat-factor stakes – at least up until the fourth track. ‘Escape’, the opener, makes it abundantly clear that it’s an album all about the production. On last.fm they’re proudly tagged ‘under 2000 listeners’ (542 at last count) (this is a TAG?), but the sound on this album is no small-label-local-band production – it’s sonic crystal.

One again, I turn to the onesheet:

“Mixed by Dave Schiffman (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Mars Volta, Dead Meadow) with mastering by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The White Stripes),”

Go figure.

‘Escape’ and ‘Icy Daggers’, already given a massive boost on account of the stellar mixing, ensure their own moreishness by using that clever device – contrast. Floaty female coos interrupted and aided by crude male yelps (not as unappetising as that sounds). Noise-soaked walls etched with perfectly defined riffs and percussion. And your standard loud-soft: delicate intros, outros and verses offset by crumpled, chaotic instrumentation in the chorus.

From the first track to the fourth, High in the Lasers rises steadily, peaking at ‘Sweet Messy Riff’, a track which , in addition to all the above, possesses the most frustrating of qualities – a slippery hook. Unable to hum it back to yourself to satiate a craving, you find yourself putting the track – just the track – on repeat till your neurons are satisfied/self-destruct.

What happens after track 4? No one knows why, but the curve that had already hit its peak and plateaued right at the outset starts to turn downwards. ‘Sun Behind The Rocks’ is peppered with a completely unnecessary 8-bitty buzz through the track which climaxes in an incomprehensible two minutes of beeps, vibrations and thumps. ‘Eyes’, which follows, is a redeemer, as anything would be, but it’s not nearly of the same calibre as the first four tracks. I’m also going to tactfully avoid saying anything about ‘Wolf in the Wood’, apart from ‘Where have the producers/mixers gone?’.

So don’t be alarmed if you start losing focus midway. Go back a couple of tracks, get your momentum back and plough on. Alternatively, take a break, let the phantoms of what you just heard melt away, and start over from ‘Brightest Diamond’.

And hey, since I already brought it up, Hideout is as yummy today as it was the first time you heard it. Pay it a visit again, if you can spare the time.

Echodrone – Mixtape For Duckie

Posted in Album, Review by R on March 3, 2013


Hardworking is the band that records one album while writing another album.

While working on the follow-up to Bon Voyage, Echodrone took some time out to unwind by creating a collection of cover songs. As you do.

The heads up I got for Mixtape for Duckie had me even more excited than news of their follow-up album will.

Unless, the announcement of their next release ALSO contains the words ‘George Michael‘.

George Michael was my first famous-person crush/love. My first memorised discography. My first mailing list. Even now, in the more advanced and progressive (or primitive?) stage of my musical life, I would put ‘Soon’ on pause just to have 6 uninterrupted minutes with ‘The Strangest Thing’.

[you can tell the inclination towards shoegaze started early]

Now, cover songs – there’s an art form. When Eugene wrote to tell me about Mixtape for Duckie, he made it sound like recording an album’s worth of cover songs, each from a different era/genre, was some dinky paint-by-numbers scene. Good lord, successfully executing a cover version of a song is often a bigger achievement than pushing out all-new material. When working on your own stuff, your benchmark is yourself. When making a cover version, you are well-aware you’re going to be compared to whoever you’re choosing to reinterpret. And Higher-Power-Of-Choice help you if you pick a well-loved track to operate on.

Not one but SIX beloved songs sit happily in the digital grooves of Mixtape for Duckie. What are you DOING, Echodrone? I ask, simultaneously eager and apprehensive. ‘WE FEAR NOTHING’, they declare as they wriggle into ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, deftly replacing Numan’s capitulation with…


what IS that?


Yep – no longer a vanquished sigh, Echodrone’s version is less wistful and more curious. Less jaded, and more genuine.

Even more astounding is their version of ‘Cry Little Sister’. Immaculate – it doesn’t lose its conviction quite as much as it loses its solitude. It’s an irrepressibly beautiful interpretation of the original which now appears to only have been brought into existence so it could live to be transformed into this more liberated, more elevated, less isolated mantra.

And then, Echodrone chose to tackle GM’s ‘Praying For Time’ – the despondent narration of the demise of humanity (or, more precisely, humaneness). In their version, it’s the instrumentation that carries the apocalypse. The bridge “the rich declare themselves poor/and most of us are not sure/if we have too much/but we’ll take our chances/because god’s stopped keeping score” etc. is swirled around, sucked into, and spat out of the noise around it. The essence of the song isn’t lost – it’s just being carried by waves instead of words.

It’s a few years ago now that a, presumably unofficial, three-part mixtape hit the online airwaves. In it, shoegazers covered other shoegazers. While I have my favourites from that collection, the futility of the exercise was apparent. Even the best of tracks were black and white xeroxes of untouchable originals. Learn from Echodrone – Why imitate, when you can adopt?

Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion

Posted in Album, Review by R on January 4, 2013

Memory Tapes

It’s not about the hair anymore.

There used to be a time you could judge the quality of a musician or a group solely by the quality of their hair – the fondly remembered and profoundly missed age of the music video. I always was partial to the 90s.

But they don’t do videos these days.

I didn’t know what Dayve (Hawke) looked like when I first got a taste of Memory Cassette. I remember asking after ‘Ghost in the Boombox’ as it oozed out of and ebbed away from turned-up car speakers one evening in 2008. I remember (figuratively) attaching myself to ‘Asleep at a Party’ the way Carol-Anne stuck to the TV set on the accompanying image of the non-EP The Hiss We Missed.

I didn’t know if this was one fellow or many. I couldn’t tell if it was a she or a he. I didn’t know much at all till the pre-release activity around Seek Magic compelled me to do my research on Memory Tapes. First when I wrote about Bicycle, then again when I wrote about the full-length. Putting out an album is no small deal – the individual I’d come to regard as a quiet, content, recluse – had to come out of hiding.

Wouldn’t you know it:


THAT HAIR… it can’t do wrong.

As it turns out, the most successful track on Grace/Confusion is the first. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, on its own, carries the conviction that the Green Knight‘s desolate moaning (Remember ‘I want to give you my love, I want to call your name, at the sound of my voice, you turn away…’?) worked out for the best in the end. At the outset, it’s a sleepy, languid thing, not unlike Seek Magic‘s own starter (the dog shows up too). Similarly, hearing the first warbles of ‘I watch you sleep’ is consoling in its tenderness. Unless you decide to recall the song’s title at just that moment, at which point it becomes a little unsettling.

So no one found Padosan a bit unsettling either?

So no one found Padosan a bit concerning either?

I struggle to come to terms with Memory Tapes’ popularity – it seems incongruous to my original image of the guy. You know – the basement musician whose dedication to music led to him creating different monikers for different styles. This way we never got too attached to one style or sound, and he wasn’t bound to any one of them either. Weird Tapes is the one you twirl to, Memory Cassette is the one you swirl to. Hail Social is completely unpretentious – the most confident, self-aware he’s ever been. Memory Tapes is… well… great,definitely, but…

It feels unnatural.

Suddenly, from talking to us from We’re Tapes, sharing basement recordings for no reason beyond having recorded them, MT’s all over P4K.

It feels like we’ve lost him.

And maybe we have.

There’s nothing to complain about in Grace/Confusion – there are too many familiar faces – the neighbour’s dog, the chipmunk choir, the stoned samurai – but if you hadn’t met them before, would they warm your heart the way they did when you first heard them?

There’s something different, though – different from the naiveté and intimacy of (even) Seek Magic, and more pronounced than what we heard in Player Piano.

Maybe the vibe I’m getting from Grace/Confusion is the same vibe I’m giving out with this writing: self-consciousness.

Flies On You – Nothing To Write Home About

Posted in Album, Review by R on December 16, 2012

What's in it

I’ve been putting off writing about Flies On You for ages now, much to Doug’s discontent. I can give you the standard ‘life stuff’ reason blaming work and study and suchlike for limiting time I can devote to AE (sorry, AE, I still love you, you’re my baby, mwah). Or I can give you the real reason – I’m sort of scared.

(But wait a minute – who’s Doug?)

We’ll get to that.

We have another //orangenoise situation on our hands. Once again, I have to walk the fine line between cutting edge insider scoop and TMI.

From the start Flies on You have been labelled post-punk. I can’t recall whether this was their own doing (‘DIY post-punk’ proclaims their bio) or something imposed on them by an over-eager fan, but where that idea came from remains a mystery. In response to your question, Doug (Aikman) is the chap to whom I owe most of my coolth (except for the shoegaze bit – that one’s me and Richard Ashcroft). He’s the one who saved me from the classic rock abyss for which I am eternally grateful. He gave me my first tastes of My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, Killing Joke, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes, Luke Haines and the Auteurs, and, thankfully, never shared a Radiohead song with me throughout (ILU, Doug). Despite this behemoth of musical expertise living in his brain, how he and Andrew (Watkins) could so grossly mislabel their own band is inexplicable. They’re only post-punk because they were once punk, I proudly declared one day. Then I declared it a few more times in the coming days because I was that proud of the line. D offered to make it the band’s byline in an attempt to get me to stop repeating it, but that idea never took off, possibly because last.fm tags are set in stone.

You see, Doug used to be in a punk band of his own back when post-punk was just winding up. When zines, not blogs, kept you cool. Nerve Rack were post-punk punk, which means they, like Flies on You, weren’t very post-punk at all. So if they aren’t what they say they are, what are they?

What does that even mean? No.
Ew. No.
There are pockets, but not really. (maybe with some convincing?)
Nice try! No.
Maybe the next album, right now – no.
Yea…. we’re not getting anywhere.

We’ve no choice but to rely on our own observations. Egad, I can’t remember the last time my dependence on genre pigeonholes allowed me to do that.

There’s a (predictable) preference, on Nothing To Write Home About, for talking over singing. There’s also a lyrical tendency to narrate rather than emote. The words to ‘Spain’, admirably accomplish both by following up a personal narrative with the emotionally-aware chorus ‘you fucking cow’. But that’s where the sentimentality ends. Don’t try to pass off ‘You’re Shite’ as emotive, when it is simply fact. None of the tracks on this album really look you in the eye. They don’t look at you at all. Each one appears to be talking to someone else. These aren’t empathetic songs, they’re reality (real life doesn’t know you exist).

I wish I could label them ‘punk’ and be done with it, but alas – they’re far from that simple. Listen to ‘Slashing it Down’, f’rinstance. Is that a hint of – it couldn’t be – REM? The harmonies – they’re straight off Out Of Time. That’s not very punk (post or otherwise) at all.

Listen to ‘Muh​-​m​-​m​-​m​-​m​-​muh’ – the descriptive title does nothing to warn you of the climactic little cannonball within its one and a half minutes.

And no punks in their right mind would, even ironically, ever use the word ‘pop’ in a song title.

And no punks have ever had a song as mellow, as sophisticated, or as long as ‘The last pop song’. Five whole minutes! You spoil us, FoY!

But, if in your cramped life, you find you can’t squeeze in the time to listen to the entirety of Nothing To Write Home About, do me just this one favour. Listen to ‘Yeah, wild I know but, nonetheless’. Pay no attention to the misplaced comma – it means nothing. Or does it?

Flies On You are the “b-side babies” of whom Adam(Ant) wisely spoke. They merely tolerate the anaemic epithet “DIY post-punk” as a descriptor of their oeuvre. Needs must, etc.

Them’s the band’s own words. If you’re listening on bandcamp, play each track from its individual page, just so you can revel in the delicate little stories subheads they’ve provided for each. Ah – how we’ve missed having album liner notes to lose our vision to.

Oi, hang on – I just noticed I’m thanked for ‘a fragment of a lyric’ – what lyric?

//orangenoise – A Journey To The Heart of Matter

Posted in Album, Review by R on September 20, 2012

I don’t see how it could make any sense to anyone else. Perhaps if you possess the selfishness of an only child you’ll understand. Maybe if you tend to adopt and nurture inanimate objects and abstract concepts, you’ll understand. Could be you’ll understand anyway.

I was there when //orangenoise formed. Well, that’s not the clearest statement. Technically, I was ‘there’ when Slowdive formed, but I can’t speak about them with the same intimacy as I’m about to. No, by ‘there’, I mean I watched //orangenoise come together. The very name was created in front of my eyes (on the 1st of June 2010, fyi) (I was a bit iffy about the ‘orange’ bit the way I’m iffy about all major decisions).

FUN FACT: //orangenoise was almost called //Feedback before suspicions led to double-checking and the unsurprising discovery that the latter was already taken.

I’d known Talha Wynne for all of three months then. We’d become friends thanks to a ‘gaze community we both milled about in. He was putting together a new band in the wake of the dissolution of the last. Two years on I’ve watched //orangenoise be created and named, I’ve listened to them record and put out an EP (Veracious), remixes, some stuff in between, as well as work on solo material (Toll Crane, Alien Panda Jury). And I’ve done it all while, for the most part, not even being on the same continent as the band.

This is the point where I have to ask you to go back to the first paragraph and try, really TRY, to understand, why //orangenoise are ‘mine’.

Now I’m back where I belong and they’re RIGHT HERE (border control begs to differ) and after all this, I want nothing more than to just be able to reach out and be where the analog sounds are.

But I can’t because visas and politics, so I’ll make do by just talking about it.

Veracious was a astounding album, no doubt. If you’re not from Pakistan or India, you have to bear in mind that access to some of the amenities that many take for granted isn’t quite as natural in these parts. The power doesn’t stay on, recording studios aren’t terribly common, equipment is expensive, audiences are nicher, and, most significantly, music production isn’t a common or an encouraged skill. Veracious stoutly defied whatever would have held it back. Until I heard A Journey To The Heart of Matter I thought Veracious had achieved the almost impossible. Hooks, clarity, diversity, and (shoegazey) tradition – it was all there.

But Journey is jaw-dropping. We’d had a teaser a few months back in the form of ‘Clipped’, and then, more recently, they dropped the opener ‘I Don’t Know‘. At the time we heard ‘Clipped’, we had no idea there was an album coming up, but it was obvious that Veracious was long gone. The ‘Clipped’ we heard was recorded live for LussunTV and even in that unforgiving setting it was proof positive that //ON had hit and crossed its adolescence with astonishing velocity. What paranormal hormones gave ‘Clipped’ its barely believable maturity so soon after we’d heard Veracious‘s to-be-expected innocence?

Wait till you hear the album version, though. Re-recorded and re-produced, it enhances nuances you didn’t realise existed as it spins, churns, and tumbles, with something hypnotic in its agility. It’s follow-up, ‘Chaser’ is similar and endowed with less of a hook, and more of a somersault – it twists and winds into itself, rolling itself out just before it gets caught up in tangles. Aforementioned opener ‘I Don’t Know’ is a the pinnacle of sophistication. You can tell there’s sophistication in a song when it remembers that there’s sound in silence.

I could go on, speaking about each song in turn. But given my obvious bias, perhaps it’s better if you do some of the work yourself.

Dead Can Dance – Anastasis

Posted in Album, Review by R on August 26, 2012

Australia is a funny place. In the third of my four years living there I discovered something peculiar.

There are no successful Australians in Australia.

It seems that if you were born in the lucky country, you’re destined to live a life of mediocrity unless you get out.

Call it ‘tall poppy syndrome’ or call it ‘crab mentality’ or call it any of the sociological terms that no doubt exist specifically to describe the phenomenon wherein success is undesirable unless it is available to all.

It’s possibly to do with the fact that, despite being a monster of a landmass, its population is nearly negligible and there’s unlikely to be anyone doing what you are (or interested in what you are doing) and so, in the absence of competition and the prevalence of unending, unconditional, indiscernible praise for anything ‘local’, there isn’t really an incentive to improve.

So I thank the heavens Dead Can Dance got out of there before they had even put out their first album. Here is is a band that a nation should be proud of. There are plenty of good Australian bands, but DCD are among the few that can be put up on global display.

Only – not while they’re in Australia. No one knows them there.

It could be because their style is so diffuse. ‘World Music’ some say. A label that is almost offensive for how it divides music and instrumentation into ‘from the developed world’ and ‘from the not-as-developed World’. Others take the names This Mortal Coiland Cocteau Twins in the same breath. And here’s me, stubbornly stuck (we presume) on labelling anything that is even REMOTELY exotic, operatic, and noisy – shoegaze.

Pigeonholing, shoeboxing, we should all give it up.

What a relief it is when Anastasis opens up. It’s absolute subjectivity and total partiality but O – the comfort that comes with hearing something that sounds like what you would have heard in your childhood. Perhaps on a mixtape one of your aunt’s friends made for her while she was at university that she left behind after she married and that you adopted as your own and played till the tape unwound and you had to wind it back with a 2HB pencil before putting it back in again and falling asleep to it till the songs were all etched into your brain, except that the handwriting on the case was illegible so you never remembered the names of the tracks, only the sounds and so you turned the rest of your life into an RPG where you set out on quests to rediscover each of them knowing only a melody and a line of lyrics.

Totally would ace that game if one of Brendan Perry’s tracks was as on this hypothetical (really?) mixtape because, pffft what is Google if not an IRL cheat code? However, if it had been one of Lisa Gerrard’s numbers on this hypothetical (REALLY??) tape, then we’d be sunk. You come to expect Cocteau Twins comparisons for the shared glossolalia and voice modulation. A natural train of thought, except that I hear my grandfather’s Gregorian Chants CD (more nostalgia). Gerrard’s voice seems far more elastic than Fraser’s with neither appearing to exist independently of each other, with no sign that fate had deemed it necessary for their paths to cross.

Anastasis is not a difficult album to warm up to. It maintains its uniqueness throughout, but it’s also got a welcome, throwback familiarity. Watch out for the closer (‘All in Good Time’), though… an excessively languid pace runs the risk of dulling the taste that the brightness and novelty the rest of the album brought you.

Speaking of familiarity, allow me to present ‘Opium’ to you. Where is the percussion from? We’ve heard it somewhere before…

This Was Tomorrow – An Interview With Sway

Posted in Album, Discover by R on July 1, 2011

Back in 2010 when Sway first released the followup to the now classic Millia Pink and Green EP, I offered to review it for him on this here blog. Many a draft was started, but I wasn’t quite able to express the everything about This Was Tomorrow that made it so special. This Was Tomorrow‘s USP is its complete and utter departure from The Millia Pink and Green and this has, unsurprisingly, left a few of the old-school gazers confused. Me, I see Millia Pink and Green and This Was Tomorrow as entirely different, uncomparable pieces of work. However I think think the poor purists would like an explanation. So putting my electrogaze tendencies aside I decide to ask The Man Himself (hi Andrew!) a few Qs about the album so we can get all your perplexedness cleared up.

I’m quite happy I took so long to get around to this because just last month, Sway signed up to Saint Marie Records and so This Was Tomorrow had a fresh release on the 7th of June this year. That’s enough excitement and goings-on in the Life of Sway to make up an entire interview, I thought. So here you go:

The St. Marie Records signing was something like 6 months after you independently released This Was Tomorrow. What’s the story behind that? Is TWT going to be out in many formats? CD, Vinyl, tape, 8-track… Also what would you consider the official release date?

This Was Tomorrow was initially intended to be a “digital only” release via iTunes, Bandcamp, etc. I really only wanted to have it out in that format as I’m very much on-board with the idea of digital distribution of music. I love it. I totally understand the desires of many music fans that want a tangible copy of an album, but for me the most important thing is getting people to hear my music in the easiest and most convenient way possible. I really kind of feel that compact discs are on the way out. The album actually was released as a download only in November of 2010, and a couple of months after the release Saint Marie Records hit me up to do a CD release of the album. I had received so many emails asking about when TWT would be released on CD that I was planning to do a special limited run, and the Saint Marie offer came just in time. So, for now, you have TWT as a digital download and a CD. I suppose I consider June 7th, 2011 to be the official release…

TWT is totally different from The Millia Pink & Green EP. I know there’ve been some “you’ve abandoned us!” reactions from the purists because (I think) it’s far more electrogaze than classic shoegaze. Much more digital than analog. I’m just speculating it was the 8-bitter in you that compelled you to make the record. You know better so tell me – what were you thinking about when you made each record?

Well, when I guess it’s pretty obvious that my influences are bands like Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, etc. When we did The Millia Pink and Green, I wanted to do a very swirly album that would set us apart mostly from a lot of stuff that was going on locally here on the West coast (US). At that time, there really weren’t many bands doing the kind of stuff we were around here, and I really wanted to do something that would be just a million miles away from all of the other albums coming out.
I have always been obsessed with things that sound lost and blurry in music. Things that sound beautiful but strange, that’s why I was drawn to dreampop early on. I always loved Enya and ethereal sounding stuff, and I like my pop music that way too.
With The Millia P&G, I was just looking to make a blurry, floaty, windy EP that would be a reminder of what Sway was doing live at the time. When people came to our shows (we played a lot back then, believe it or not) they would usually be somewhat confused by the sounds we were putting out and I’m sure wondered if most of it were intentionally done, you know? So, this was like a reminder or proof that, yeah, we actually made music that sounded that way, and meant to.

I’ve always been a gamer. All of the Sway kids were. We all grew up with Atari and Nintendo stuff. There is something about 8-bit sounds and all that, that really gets my nostalgia machine working. For me, part of the whole dreampop thing is this weird nostalgic daydream feeling that’s induced by swirly guitars. I realized a few years ago that those retro game sounds also have the same effect on me, perhaps even more so, so I had to squeeze them in there. In my opinion, it totally works. I’m not trying to abandon all of the people that are faithful to the textbook shoegaze sounds or anything, I just feel there’s room for new sounds in this “genre”. I’m actually kinda bummed that it’s far easier for most bands these days to more or less emulate Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine twenty years later and have people eat it up. That bugs me. I honestly love the classics and steal from them all day long in my own way, but I constantly feel pressured to not go too far when it comes to borrowing from them and their sounds or songwriting. TWT is a dreampop album that uses plenty of my influences, and adds some new stuff that you might not expect for this kind of music. It’s good to mix it up a bit. I think if people give this album a real listen, they’ll appreciate it more. I made this for the listeners, the people that put on headphones and like to lose themselves in the music.

What is a day in the life of Sway – are you a rockstar, an oversized kid, or just a normal 9-to-5-er?

Definitely as far from a rockstar as can be. I’m a dad, a husband, and I have a full time job at a place that is totally unrelated to music, art, or anything remotely creative at all. I’m older now, and I’m very busy and tired. I don’t love music any less than I used to. It’s torture to not have many chances these days to just create music the way I used to and took it for granted, but I still find time every now and then, and that’s fine. It will never let me achieve any huge popularity or fan base from touring and doing all the promo work that “successful” bands do, but I think I’m okay with that. I love the fact that new people are always finding out about Sway on the internet and from friends.

Even the most dedicated shoegazer likes more than just shoegaze. What completely different music does your alterego(s) like?

I honestly don’t listen to much “nugazer” stuff these days unless I’m exposed to it by friends, or people I meet or whatever. Most that I do hear though, I really like a lot! I don’t actively seek out new shoegaze bands. I do listen to all the classic stuff from time to time to feed my cravings. As far as other styles that I like, I know it may sound cliché, but I do listen to tons of jazz. My first instrument was the saxophone, and I still play every now and then. I love the freedom of jazz improvisation. I love the experimental and sometimes dissonant chord progressions of avant-garde jazz and “new thing” jazz. I also love modern “classical” composers and electronic art stuff. I like crazy Japanese noise/electronic stuff. Anime soundtracks. Minimalist classical, anything experimental and pretty. I’m not into that much electronica unless it’s ethereal and not too…electronica-ish. I grew up in the 1980s so I kind of have a soft spot for late 70s and 80s pop stuff. I have very fond memories of being a little kid and listening to my walkman all night to some of the top 40 stuff through out the mid and late eighties. I mention it a lot, but one of the reasons that I’m drawn to dreampop is memories of falling asleep with my headphones on, and waking up late at night, in a sleepy haze and hearing Pet Shop Boys or Lionel Ritchie or Swing Out Sister or something, whispering to me in my ears. I love the Beatles. I’ve always loved Michael Jackson’s music. “Human Nature” is one of my all time favorite songs. The older I get, the less I like hip, cutting edge “alternative” and “indie” music. It’s all starting to sound like noise to me now, and not so much in a good way. It’s weird but true. Is that sad, or what?

Do you want to know how I first heard about Sway? It’s not super-interesting, but I thought you might like to know since it was not thru the internet (shock!).

Sway: Hmmmm… not through the internet, huh? I’m very curious! I doubt that you took a leap of faith and bought a Sway CD from Tonevendor without a recommendation or something… or did you? A friend?

Me: Well I guess it was indirectly the internet. But I think it’s cool because I wasn’t a part of the Shoegaze Collective at the time (because it didn’t really exist to the extent it does now). I only knew a handful of shoegazers from the internet and one of them I’d known since I was in India and he lived in Australia. So a couple of years after I landed in Melbourne we worked out we weren’t too far apart and decided to meet for the first time. He’s like shoegaze bourgeoisie. I don’t know where he gets his info from but even the most thorough scouring of the internet doesn’t reveal to me the stuff he knows as soon as he knows it. He left me with a few names on our first meeting and was positively RAVING about the Millia Pink and Green. Till This Was Tomorrow I always associated Sway with “Fall” and, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s a classic now. Anyway, I think it’s pretty cool that the first time I heard about Sway was via FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATION omg.

This Was Tomorrow needed a bit of creator input so that listeners can understand it better and see it as less of an abandonment of the classic sounds of shoegaze and more of an evolution of Sway’s own work. I called it Chillgaze when I first heard it, can we make that a genre? See if you think otherwise and pick up This Was Tomorrow here.

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