RELEASE DATE: 14th December 2016
RECORD COMPANY: Lavender Sweep Records
I am riding a wave of nostalgia – it’s 1994 day on 6 Music and impossible not to think back with fondness. So when I open the email from the esteemed editor and find that it’s a re-release of a lost EP from 1993, the timing could not be better. According to their Bandcamp page, Ozean formed in California in the early 90s after a flyer was handed out at a shoegaze show. They soon recorded their first demos on a Fostex Model 80, straight to tape. No unlimited takes in those days, and definitely no plug-ins! They made some cassette tapes, and split soon after.
Ozean by Ozean
Twenty-odd years on, those original recordings have been uncovered, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, Ozean’s dreaminess is making it out to a whole new audience. The timing is good – the shoegaze resurgence is well underway, with many of the genre’s big-hitters releasing new music this year. Ozean’s self-titled three track demo is a perfect parcel of the loveliness you’d expect of a band formed after a Ride and Lush gig. The fluttering guitars and wistful vocals transport the listener, overwhelmed and sentimental, back to those heady days. As well as their stated influences, I can hear The Sundays in Scenic. Fall floats like a feather, with flanged bass anchoring those big guitars. The closing track Porcelain drifts with no particular place to go. Ah, the possibilities.......
The EP was re-released via Lavender Sweep Records over in Wales on a limited edition c30 which has already sold out but you can get your hands on it digitally via the bands own bandcamp page: ozean.bandcamp.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
In her time, Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr has attended raves and rock clubs. She enjoys pedals, pizza and spy dramas. Sarah also plays guitar in Edinburgh-based noisemakers Wozniak and is co-founder of Morningside Young Team who put on gigs and put out records for discerning audiences who enjoy fuzz and confusion.
by Primal Music
ARTIST: Seventeen Years
RELEASE DATE: 14th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Spirit Goth Records
What do you get when you cross the ethos and contextual background and instrumentation of old school post-punk with a fresh, modern form of dream pop? Well it’s something like 2004 by Kansas based Seventeen Years, an EP that appears not in waves of noise or walls of sounds, but in a slight, dreamy way… With a tinge of punk thrown in for a wild flavour. At times the release can be so subtle that the vocals fade into the music; creating one big pool of sounds, thoughts and noises that form a song. 2004 is by no means a step forward in the genre; nor is it wildly different, it’s just a simple little EP… With a bit of this, and a bit of that. The album was released back on the 14th February 2017 via the ever prolific 'Spirit Goth Records' and you can buy/download it right now from spiritgothrecords.bandcamp.com
2004 by Seventeen Years
2004 opens with ‘Strain’ . It features a clean, crisp FX guitar sound and the churn of a tight bass guitar riff that sounds like it could have come straight out of a 1980’s coldwave/post-punk song. In a similar way, the drums smash away in a double tap snare mentality that accompanies the bass guitar smoothly; creating a tight, well performed and well produced rhythm section. However, of all the songs instrumental and production elements, it is the skilfully drowned out vocals that give the song a radiant, almost slowcore, dark mentality. After a few listens, one can really appreciate ‘Strain’ for what it is; and that is a dark, wallowing piece of contemplation. Where many dream pop artists turn to the bright, sparkling cliffs of blue oceans and shorelines for metaphors and onamattapea to create a warm feeling of nostalgia or hazy coloured contemplation, Seventeen Years turn the opposite direction and carve up something different altogether, while at the same time maintaining that aforementioned air of nostalgia or yearning. ‘Worthless’ begins with the same guitar picking as on ‘Strain’ and dives further into the musical style explored on the opening track. The vocals remain drowned; a major highlight of the song is a passage where the vocal performance and guitar interlock in a solo section where one tries to dampen out the other: brilliant. Although the greatest moment in the song is the fantastic guitar solo/outro in the second half of the song; speaking so many words without singing any of them.
‘VGS’ begins with a programmed beat before introducing guitar and then a few bright soundscape pieces of noise that link back into themes associated with rear-view mirror gazing. It may be the EP’s best song, fit with an obtuse kind of artificial sound in the drum machine that is contrasted with a heartfelt vocal and guitar performance, all the while underpinned by the bright sounds and samples that dance around in the mix. ‘Bury’ turns the mood into a lighter, brighter feeling. Credit to the fantastic riffs explored on the song that really highlight the bands skill and talent. A song that sounds different again is the follower ‘Moonhome’, which seems to see the music shining brighter while the lyrics going the opposite direction. There is further exploration made with the guitar, and a great sense of musical blending and textualizing with the bass and guitar sounds. Toward the second half of the song, the band enter into a dreamy, hazy, jam like section of music that sounds truly marvellous, underpinned by the upper fret pickings of a FX’d guitar. ‘Ascend’ begins with a warm wavering pad of soundscaped pop synth that progresses all the way through the song; eventually accompanied by percussive electronics and some buzzing and whizzing noises that sound like a computer being started up or something like that. ‘Ascend’, in context with the EP, is like some sort of outro or later album interlude; providing beautifully dreamy instrumental sounds.
Funnily enough, 2004 sounds like some sort of concept album when you think about it. It’s concept being the sound and instrumentation of the music; beginning in a dark and hushed way before slowly turning light as the EP goes on. Perhaps Seventeen Years meant to do this, maybe they did not, either way 2004 is a great piece of music that really makes use of the things it has. There isn’t eighty million synths all humming away in a cacophony of sound, there’s no ethereal samples or tricky sequencing; it’s just a band, a few tricks here and there and then some added sounds and noises that add to the whole thing and ties it together nicely. As mentioned before, the performances highlight what the undercurrent of dream pop practice really concerns… That is the belief that music can morph into imagery, and that imagery can be as emotive as the music itself. Seventeen Years accomplish that here, through mixing, performance, production and sounds.
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
ARTIST: Hanford Reach
RELEASE: Canyons EP
RELEASE DATE: 10th March 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Medium Lavender
Brooklyn based psych/shoegaze outfit 'Hanford Reach' formed back in 2016 following the dissolution of a previous incarnation called 'Sky Picnic'. Consisting of Chris Sherman and Leah Cinnamon the band's sonic tendrils reach primarily into the realms of jangling shoegaze hued pop but with a subtle undercurrent of driving post-punk, reminiscent at times to seminal US based post-punk connoisseurs 'For Against', Boston based shoegaze outfit 'Swirlies' or more recently 'The Marbles Jackson'. 'Hanford Reach' originally started as a solo project for the duo to create new material but they are now currently working behind the scenes to take this EP on tour with live shows promised throughout 2017. Their debut four track EP 'Canyons' gets it's full release on March 10th via their own record label 'Medium Lavender'. You can however pre-order it right now digitally from hanfordreach.bandcamp.com
The EP opens with 'Shifting Patterns'. A shimmering almost effervescent like guitar strum awakens a psychedelic behemoth before tumbling skittishly into reverb laced soundscape filled with impressive instrumental breaks, luscious lead guitar lines, thunderous percussion and that incredibly addictive vocal line. What is instantly apparent as this EP unwraps itself is that 'Hanford Reach' are intellectually astute musicians who can inject a serious amount of melody into every single facet of their songwriting without losing any of that old school 90's charm that has been previously written about them. 'Shifting Patterns' surges and heaves through magical percussive breaks & intricate lead lines that wrap themselves around the vocals adding depth and weight to their overall sound. A brilliant opening track indeed. Up next, 'Muted Edge' swirls into the ether on a menacing instrumental drone and a steady drum pattern. Jangling guitars take over, draped in swathes of reverberating frequencies and subtle synth swells. Another impressive vocal lines sits atop an undulating wave hypnotic instrumentation firmly fixed to a bedrock of throbbing bass lines and tumbling percussion.
The EP's penultimate piece entitled 'Theatre Of Shadows' opens with a turbulent jazz tinged drum pattern intertwined with cascading bass frequencies and swirling psych tinged guitar lines before it's sublime vocalisations enter the fray, looping and arcing effortlessly in unison with the metronomic swing of the collective instrumentation, as if being locked in a kind of sonic gravitational pull. Theatre Of Shadows has the songwriting prowess of 'For Against' with its soaring shoegaze highs coupled with driving post-punk lows but there's also a brilliantly intoxicating modern twist to this track that's very hard to shake off. 'Canyons' closes out with 'Daydream Hues', an impressive slice of psych tinged shoegaze filled with steading drums, throbbing bass progressions and subtle synth swells that are overlaid by jangling guitar lines and explosive passages of swirling reverb laced instrumentation, vocal samples and shimmering tambourine shakes. A brilliant ending to an impressive debut EP.
'Hanford Reach' have an old school sound. Their musicianship & songwriting abilities are faultless. This EP is not experimental at all so it's not going to create new sub-genres in this ever evolving scene. But what it does do is; it gives an honest doff of the proverbial cap to those shoegaze/psych/post-punk pioneers who created these genres originally and thats what makes this EP something really, really special.
Del Chaney has spent the last four years dedicating his time to uncovering the best artists in the unsigned or small independent label based shoegaze, ethereal dream pop, post punk, post rock & modern psych rock from all over the globe & reviewing them for this blog - The Primal Music Blog. He is also a contributing writer for The Sound Of Confusion (Now On Hiatus). His other arm - Primal Radio - has gained considerable respect from bands and promoters alike since its conception in 2013 & has helped him in actively promoting a genre of music that he is passionate about. Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, he is a keen Vinyl Collector, Tattoo Fan & all round good guy! He is a self confessed music freak & is never far away from a studio console or a turntable.
ARTIST: Andrew Younker
RELEASE DATE: 2nd February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
While many of us were in a turkey coma over the festive season, Andrew Younker appears to have experienced a bout of intense productivity. He's created an impressive 6 track EP that builds on the woozy sonic foundations of 'Brainchild' (released November 2016). Andrew's voice and approach somehow make me think of Sufjan Stevens, it's probably more my perception than reality, but sometimes that's how it goes. The aesthetic is familiar, with washes of beautiful noise given direction mainly through the insistent bass. There's a strong electro feel, but plenty of organic noises too. 'Microchasm' is available to buy/download right now from andrewyounker.bandcamp.com
Microchasm by Andrew Younker
The resolute rhythm of Electric Chair sets the pace for the EP, the bassline pushing the song along pleasingly, while the guitars swirl about somewhere up above. Totaled Ambulance's post punk feel with its reverby snare sound and, of course, that bass bowling along in its icy beauty, nods to the 80s. Multi-layered melodies shine through Eyes Turn Blue. The gritty but glorious guitars glow with restrained power, as does Andrew's voice. There's a change of feel with Down The Stairs which in contrast to the immaculate construction of earlier tracks seems freer, with an almost psychedelic guitar line.
A monotone robotic voice sings plaintively in Sophisticated, which soon merges in into Pretend Therapist. Again the 80's influences are clear, but Younker's tastes are impeccable, every sound carefully selected and placed perfectly. Microchasm is an interesting step in Younker's musical development, exuding a cultivated chilliness. Can't wait to hear where he goes next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
RELEASE: Venn EP
RELEASE DATE: 22nd February 2017
Washington based noisy shoegaze quartet 'Venn' have unleashed their debut four track self-titled EP to the masses via their bandcamp page. Its taken the band almost two years to perfect a sound that fits into what they love about shoegaze & dream pop and it's not hard to hear their many influences streaming through their core ascetic. The band are made up of Jon Fetahaj, Gabe Earle, Julian Earle & Holden Cihelka and you can buy/download their debut EP right now via: venn-dc.bandcamp.com
Venn EP by Venn
The EP opens up with it's lead single, the brilliantly executed 'Surreal'. This Track is mesmerisingly explosive, full on and it takes no prisoners as it soars into the ether on wings of sublime reverberation and punchy instrumentation. It's fragile vocals swirl and undulate on a bedrock of humming bass frequencies and shimmering guitar lines as it's percussive swagger explodes into glorious sonic shards. Up next 'Weekday' trembles into earshot on a thunderous drum pattern, shuddering baseline and soaring guitars as the track loops and arcs all over the sonic canvass dragging with it those sublime vocalisations. Collectively the bands sound on this track tumbles into the ether draped in shimmering swathes of reverberation and fuzzy guitar squall leaving sonic trails of dreamy fuzzed out bliss in it's wake. The EP's penultimate track entitled 'Maybe I'm A Liar' enters earshot swirling in a kind of semi ambient haze that is supplemented with metronomic percussive theatrics and brilliant production before a massive guitar line wakes up this sleeping sonic giant, drags it by the scruff of the neck and dumps it into a massive pool of silver hued reverb. It is jammed full of absent minded melancholy that comes across superbly in its sublime vocalisations that seem to slot into the instrumental maelstrom with relative ease. 'Maybe I'm A Liar' is a beautiful slice of modern day dream pop deftly infused with layer after layer of hazy shoegaze and it's probably my favourite track on this entire release.
If there was ever a modern track out there today that harks back brilliantly to those early nineties shoegaze pioneers it has to be the closing piece on this EP. 'Someone Else' bounds into the sonic arena on a huge pulsating drum pattern guided by soaring lead guitars and intense production. It's throbbing bass frequencies hold court diligently keeping everything together and acting like a kind of sonic glue. The track meanders through huge walls of layered sound only falling back on itself as the verse vocals arrive instilling a serine calmness in the process. It then builds menacingly into a raging torrent of glorious noise, twisting and turning through clouds of pulsating reverberation before fading out into finality leaving this listener in no doubt whatsoever that 'Venn' are the real deal .... and this is blissful music!
ARTIST: Alex Chilltown
RELEASE: Eaten Up By Nothing
RELEASE DATE: 24th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Witchgirl Recordings
'Eaten up By Nothing' is the new EP by the chilled out post-punk/shoegaze styled 'Alex Chilltown' aka London-based Josh Esaw. It’s a dense, heavy and burningly unhurried meditation of slowcore and thick, murky, gothic sounds that tend to be like some sort of swamp that you might get dragged down in for a while, before it spits you back out of its depths. Although the tracks themselves avoid ‘epic’ and lengthy portions, it’s the crux and interior of the sounds that bellow into trenches of the sort of downtrodden sound you would expect. Accompanying these sounds, however, is the full on wall of sound-style mixing reminiscent of shoegaze music; where one strum of a chord with the right FX and pedals can flood the room with an absolute cacophony of sound. Together these elements make an interesting mix of things.
'Eaten up By Nothing' opens with ‘Untitled’ which establishes the fantastic quality of performance that appears all over the EP. A brilliant and subtle synth sits at the back of most of the songs which adds even more weight to the music. This element, along with the intricate sound of a weaving guitar, makes the instrumentation brilliant and almost always engaging. The 80’s play a deep influence upon the band, which at times sounds like it perhaps should have been basement dwelling in Eastern Europe in the peak of cold-wave. ‘Hollow’ introduces a more fleshed out sound that’s a tad more influenced by shoegaze. The drums slow and minimalistic beat acts as a kind of backbone to the rest of the instrumentation… The vocals sit awkwardly above a kind of ethereal wave guitar pop sound that sounds like the least loud instrument of them all; interesting.
‘Glaze’ comes across as a much more whimsical exercise in the bands sonic explorations. For the most part it’s not as engaging as the opening tracks on the EP; and altogether it’s a weird kind of mediocre that kind of plays and plays without reaching any great heights. That is until the outro: a fantastic and involving passage of music that uses all the bands strengths to conjure up an emotive and dreamy reverberate. The melding of guitars, drums and the ethereal synths do wonders for the texture of the track. But, easily the most engaging and greatest track on the EP is the six minute plus ‘Diamond Sea’; which touches more upon a contemplative kind of dream pop/shoegaze noise than the bands previous endeavours into a more dark and gothic sound. ‘Diamond Sea’ is the only song on the EP that truly showcases an interesting and somewhat reputable vocal track. It’s not too loud, it’s not too quiet and the lyrics fit in with the instrumentation. The drums and bass showcase the aforementioned influence of slowcore and musical exploration. It’s a brilliant and original song, with moments that connect both the light and the dark somewhere in the middle.
After a few listens to the EP, one must admit that the sounds explored on 'Eaten Up by Nothing' are well travelled pieces of terrain; and far from original. With this in mind, sometime after a few listens you’ll notice how a few of the tracks sound similar in style and in tone. Also, the lyrics are awkward attempts at poetically gothic statements; like an outpouring or confession that feels as forced as it does tongue in cheek. Accompanying these lyrics are the sometimes-cumbersome vocal performance and mixing, which leaves you asking: is it too quiet, or is it too loud? These elements appear to be prevalent upon a few listens, but although there are flaws, there are also great strengths and highlights. For one, the instrumentation and music performances stay solid, fluid and engaging for the whole EP. The production is brilliant and is used to show the acme of the bands musical texturing throughout Eaten Up by Nothing, and altogether, the sounds produced through FX and tweaking are impressive in their own right. The band use their talents to create an EP that may not be the most original piece of music ever, but is clearly a release that shows their strengths, achieved primarily through production and the melding of sound.
ARTIST: By Night With Spear
RELEASE: Seeing In The Dark
RELEASE DATE: 13th January 2017
Just as its cover art, the musical contents of 'Seeing In The Dark' by New York based shoegaze/dream pop band 'By Night With Spear' is vividly beautiful and colorful in a contemplative and distant style. Spread over the course of an album, 'By Night With Spear' explore every corner of dream pop and shoegaze music; generally guided by the beautiful and talented vocal performances and singing that adds another dimension to the sound in context with the genre. In a weird way its almost a light version of blackgaze; where guitars and drums remain steadfast in creating wall of sounds for the vocals to hover over. However, in this case, the guitars are less heavy and the drums never break into a blast beat; but the music remains strong and full frontal, creating a wall of sound of melody and musical colors that deserve both praise and recognition.
Seeing in the Dark by By Night With Spear
‘Starlight’ opens with the surge of light, fluffy, dream pop inspired guitars and the slow rattle and roll of the drumming. The vocals slowly seep into the mix; high and wavering in a pitch a kin to musical warmth and brightness. It displays a beautiful, well-written chorus that’s an album highlight. ‘Starlight’ follows into 'Twenty Nights’ that slows things down slightly and introduces more shoegaze elements into the bands sound with feedback inspired guitar backings and heavier/pounding drums in the back of the mix. The outro section, where the vocals rise even higher, adds more emphasis on the musical blending that occurs through the production. ‘Blue Rider’ is another slow, sensual and emotive piece of music making. Perhaps more so than previous tracks, it showcases By Night With Spear’s ability to create music of pure beauty and adoration. Between the rolling drums that set the scene, to the blue-sky feel of the guitars, the song captures a moment of complete bliss and categorizers the band as one whose music conjures images of beaches, of the cool, colorful sand and water as the sun dips to the horizon; it’s something only truly fantastic dream pop bands can do. Impressive.
‘Moving Projections’ turns the mood post-punk with double tap snare and a heavier atmosphere. The guitars take a step deeper and the whole song turns somewhat darker than the previous tracks. Meanwhile, the vocals remain at their great heights; creating a mesmerizing and interesting counterpoint to the tone of the music and instrumentation of the song. The album highlight, in my opinion, is ‘Martyr’, which builds upon the aforementioned powers and elements of ‘Blue Rider’ to create a visionary piece of dreamy shoegaze music that attends to all the essential things that dream pop music should make you feel: contemplative, wandering and a deep sense of yearning for the past. ‘Given’ combines the elements of alternative dream pop music with the darker touch of ‘Moving Projections’ style post-punk, and rounds it off with a flavor akin to indie pop music. The drums bounce around, while the guitars play in accompaniment to the once-again beautiful vocals. The instrument and vocal performances are outstanding, especially the vocals, as is the production and the overall mixing.
Dream pop is a difficult genre to get right in the modern age of the Internet and connectivity. In it’s humble origins of the 80’s, many bands were praised for their unique musical style and techniques within the genre. With the emergence of the Internet and a worldwide musical grand interest in dream pop music, so many bands try hard to create something unique or interesting to step out from the crowd of mediocrity. By Night With Spear, much like the fantastically reflective guitar tones of Pastel Coast, succeed in this leap from the crowd; creating a kind of dream pop album that utilizes beauty and reminiscence in place of fancy FX and wild production techniques that amount to boredom and self-indulgence. But simultaneously, 'Seeing In The Dark' is far from being over-intellectualized or avant-garde in the contextual elements of its genre, and it could easily be an introduction to dream pop and a more refined shoegaze for a listener who hasn’t been listening to it all the while. It’s an engaging listen, primarily created through the grand avenues of performance, mixing, production and sound.
ARTIST: Electric Floor
RELEASE DATE: 6th March 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Vipchoyo Sound Factory Records
Cosenza based new wave/synth-gaze trio 'Electric Floor' have announced their highly anticipated new EP 'Fader' released via the ever prolific Italian based independent record label 'Vipchoyo Sound Factory'. With a sound that echoes the experimental side of post-punk melded together with the darker side of new wave and underpinned by a modern electronic edge 'Electric Floor' have the ability to push the sonic envelope with their music. The band were formed in 2009 and are made up of Emanuele Chiarelli - vocals/guitar, Simone Costantino De Luca - programming/keys & Fabio Cosentino - bass. 'Fader' gets its full release on the 6th March 2017 and is available to pre-order on various formats right now from vipchoyo-sound-factory.bandcamp.com
Electric Floor -FADER- by electric floor
The EP opens up with it's lead single 'Bluedive'. It charges into the sonic ether on a bedrock of driving bass frequencies and sequenced percussion as the bleep and whirr of synth squall echoes deep within a bubble of reverberation. It's vocals are placed meticulously to the fore as all around them swirl in a kind of sonic gravitational pull, looping and arcing through waves of shimmering synth swells and subliminal guitar lines. 'Bluedive' is a feast of melodious frequencies that are guaranteed to thrill. Up next, 'Sullen Dress' shimmers and swirls in a haze of jittering synth draped with a modern dream pop twist. Beautiful guitar lines dance and shimmy along sequenced percussion deftly cushioning that impressive vocal line, underscored at times by duel backing vocals and soaring instrumentation. 'Borderline' pulses and fizzes along turbulent synth swells, the throbbing hum of bass frequencies and undulating sequenced percussion. It builds in momentum, swinging into massive swathes of reverberation and dragging distinctly passionate piano stabs and another brilliantly executed vocal with it as it jumps off into the ether. Stunning production underscores some impressive instrumentation here as it weaves and bobs along its predestined melancholic course, skimmed at times by soaring guitar lines.
Up next, the EP unleashes it's penultimate piece and probably my favourite track on the entire release. 'M31' surges into audible range on cascading baselines, sequenced bleeps and whirrs and steadying percussion. It's vocal lines sweep in, catching this listeners attention before scooping him off his feet only to then soar into the ether accompanied by soaring waves of instrumental laced reverb and raging guitars. 'Electric Floor' have a unique ability to squeeze so many different genres into one complete sound and it is really evident on 'M31'.There are hints new wave, dream pop, subtle layers shoegaze and driving post-punk coursing through this tracks inner core that make it the stand out track for me. The EP then closes out with 'Nosedive'. It's probably the most modern sounding electronic track on the EP if I'm honest but it does have some incredible bass lines running through its central spine and it finishes in spectacular fashion, as all of it's separate components amalgamate into one driving sonic maelstrom. A decent ending to a rather interesting EP.
ARTIST: Cherry Crush
RELEASE: Turning EP
RELEASE DATE: 6th January 2017
Kentucky based 'Cherry Crush' have brewed up sweet and sour shoegaze concoction with their EP 'Turning' which came out earlier this year. Following on from their March 2016 debut single 'Lights Out' , these six tracks fuzz in all the right places. The 'Turning' EP is available to buy/download right now from thecherrycrush.bandcamp.com
Turning EP by Cherry Crush
'How it Goes' opens with a ripping riff and rolls along at quite a lick. Ride's vapour trails are in evidence in 'Fine', with its vocal harmonies and chiming guitar melodies. There's a bit of bite to 'Made in America'. It's minor chords sharp lyrics and sprawling squall of a middle eight hint that all might not be rosy in Cherry Crush's world. The darker feel continues with 'No Control', one of the highlights of the record. Opening with a crash, 'I can't stop the world from spinning' goes the refrain - the frustration palpable. Surely, we all know where they're coming from? Title track 'Turning' is a beacon. The reverb lights up the song, letting the layered melodies twinkle. With 'Judy' the record seems to come full circle. The snarl of the guitars is slighter at first, but that's just the the prelude to an eruption of feedback and then .... silence!
ARTIST: Snowball II
RELEASE: Flashes Of Quincy
RELEASE DATE: 10th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Doughnut Records
Songs about breaking your ankle on halfpipes, drinking chai tea and heartbreak; must be the nineties!? Or is it 'Flashes of Quincy' by Long Beach based power pop band Snowball II? An album that combines the more rock-influenced shoegaze sounds of bands like Ride and the heavy strum and meddling of a genre one can only identify as a specific type of garage power pop. Throw into these musical nods to a by-gone era the lyrical recipes that shot many alternative bands to the top of charts around the world; such as skating, girls and being generally awkward about things. It’s a smart and satisfying album because it injects an originality into a time period and sound (power pop) that make it sound as fresh as ever; you can see the influence, but it’s mostly covered by originality and creatively diverse songs, ideas and sounds.
Flashes of Quincy by Snowball II
'Flashes of Quincy' begins with the album highlight ‘Anais & Me’ which centres around the whimsically contemplative vocals and the lyrics within. The protagonist of the song (presumably the ‘me’ in the title) reflects on the decisions and actions of the titular Anais; who drives to parties, dodges curfew and smokes. Snowball II use the vocals to enhance the lyrical message as they take on an awkward, self-conscious tone that sounds like it’s coming straight from the mouth of the main character. The instrumental qualities of the song touch more on alternative rock than power pop or shoegaze; although the vocals sound distinctly lower in the mix in a semi-Ride styling. As for its appeal; the song boils down to a simple case of being super enjoyable. That, really, is the crux of almost the entire album; there is always some sort of simple and minute form of enjoyment running through almost every song. ‘Groan’s’ is a more power pop centred song that showcases the undercurrents of indie music in the band’s sound. The song begins as a neat guitar riff plays through until the end of the verses where it dips into what sounds to be an out of time guitar section in a different key? This small piece of experimentation adds another dimension to the already fantastic song writing; the chorus rolls along and showcases the best elements of pop music; being superbly catchy and playful. All the while the vocals maintain the same kind of awkward bystander mentality as before; receiving significant help within the realms of ‘dorky charm’ by the lyrics, especially the chorus lyrics ‘It might be your birthday/But I made a cake for you’ to be precise. Snowball II turn things downtempo and perhaps even more shoegaze with ‘Sear ‘Em!’ that sounds much less playful than the previous two tracks. A fantastic drum beat maintains a heavier guitar sound; while a downtempo guitar plays under the mix to add contextual weight to the vocals.
‘CR-VUC’ starts with a weird kind of acoustic guitar and the slow churn of an organ in the background of the song that folds out into the alternative rock of previous songs. It sounds like a more fleshed out song; featuring a memorable chorus but perhaps even a memorable verse structure also. The small elements, like acoustic guitar, organ and an active drum section, make the song even more beautiful and showcase a diversity in the bands song writing. ‘Resident Of The United States’ is another album highlight; a brilliant guitar riff guides itself through a stop and start verse and chorus that builds around fantastic alternative rock melding’s and styles. ‘Your Occasion’ embodies the quirky, slow, freak-folk like elements of the band’s sound. This song is brilliant; it’s acoustic guitar driven verses drive it through to a much heavier, muted power pop kind of alternative musings. The instrumentation showcases what seems like a more ‘mature’ form of arrangement (that’s not to say the other songs are ‘immature’) and the vocals ooze a kind of nostalgic quality that does wonders for its mixing with the instruments and performance; truly fantastic. Reggae and dancehall blend with a kind of indie sensibility on ‘Appositive Stream’ a masterfully slight pop tune that features all the warmth that hipster-cum-indie bands often skip over. It’s a simple little song that is guaranteed to make you smile and think about the beach, or something.
‘Meet Yr Dad’ is the most comedic that Snowball II ever reach. It’s a racy spoken word folk-rock/alt-rock tune about everything related to relationships and that awkward past time of meeting the girls father. Similar to ‘Appositive Stream’, the song goes for less than three minutes; packing all of its wit and humour into a crafty, neat package that’s just as narratively absorbing as a seven-minute epic, or the five minute ballad like rock sounds at the start of the album. ‘I Exist’ sees the band embrace a psych pop sound and the off-kilter guitar sound that appeared ‘Groan’s’. It’s the lengthiest song on the second side of the album; I believe it to be the least interesting of all the songs on the album; taking on a fuller sound that begins to shine the light away from the bands stronger qualities; like performance and simple but adroit guitar riffs. ‘Is All’ is the furthest Snowball II stride from the sweltering, sunny quirks of their power pop sound; turning in a mesmerisingly beautiful ballad, influenced by soft rock, dream pop and a downtempo style of shoegaze. Built around a simple sequenced electronic pattern, the song builds upon the gentle strum of a guitar and the distant and hushed vocals. Altogether it sees the sun going down after a long day of beach dwelling; a kind of conceptual scenario the listener creates for themselves over the course of the album.
Flashes Of Quincy’s rating and conclusion of criticism could be boiled down to one simple, overriding fact; it is immensely enjoyable. It’s pure fun. And even when it’s downtrodden or darker lyrics or sounds seep into the music, it is still as invigorating to watch and listen to a band who create so much with such simple and straight forward sounds. Altogether, I feel as though the bands origin in Long Beach speaks some kinds of contextual volumes about the content in the songs; the visions of the ocean and the beach, of the pizza restaurant or the movie theatre you take the girl to on an awkward first date. Flashes Of Quincy, in this regard, at times sounds like a concept album of sorts; less of a story but more of a feeling or a place.
The band themselves turn in a magnificent performance across the entire album. The mixing and the production injects nothing but strength into the music; relaying and clearly presenting all the aforementioned opinions and emotions. It’s a solid and thoughtful group of ballads and power pop tunes, wrapped in the warm embrace of shoegaze and alternative rock that reminds us all of sometime in the past; way back when. The band step above where many other rock based groups would drift away or remain clichéd, they do so through the avenues of performance, song writing and sound.