ARTIST: Soft Science
RELEASE DATE: 1st June 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Test Pattern Records
Sacramento-based 'Soft Science' reside in the grooves between music genres, pulling different influences from each to create something altogether sublime. From shoegaze to dream-pop and power-pop to alt-rock, each of the aforementioned genre's sonic impressions are brilliantly compressed and honed until their forms have been collectively reimagined into one intensive surge of melody. The band are made up of Ross Levine, Katie Haley, Matt Levine, Tony Cale & Mason DeMusey with influences ranging from The Beach Boys to Lush, Pale Saints, Teenage Fanclub, New Order and Jesus And Mary Chain. Their latest long player entitled 'Maps' was officially released back on June 1st 2018 via the good folks over at 'Test Pattern Records' and is available to buy/download right now on various formats via testpatternrecords.bandcamp.com
Maps by Soft Science
In a haze of fizzing guitars and dreamy melody the opening bars of ‘Undone’ permeate the senses with tingling clouds of shimmering reverberation. Swirling sound-waves charge skywards as a steady drum pattern tethers itself to those sublime swells of synth and the throb of luscious bass allowing that alluring vocal line to meander in and out of the collective instrumentation with relative ease. ‘Undone’ is captivating and a marvellous opening salvo indeed. Up next, ‘Breaking’ bounces into audible range strapped to a tumbling line of synth and a fast injection of tempo. Surging swells of keyboard dance just below the mix as jangling guitar progressions envelope those magical vocalisations and we’re pulled into that soaring chorus break. Catchy chord changes here erupt as we rise on clouds of synth and tumble into reverberating walls of beautiful noise. ‘Diverging’ charges into the ether on a pounding swagger of percussion as the throb of bass as those swirling lines of synth pull beautiful vocalisations out into the open allowing fuzzy guitars to ebb and flow with ease. There’s a brilliant instrumental break here that rises majestically, bursting through layers of hypnotic synth, swirling guitars and boisterous drums to allow subtle vocal refrains to peek through until the tracks end. ‘Diverging’ is a triumph and a definite highlight for me on this release.
‘There’ arrives grinding through layers of reverberating guitars before that melodic vocal line takes hold and pulls the listener skywards. This is an absolutely magnificent slice of dreamy shoegaze tinged with simmering flourishes of dream-pop. Lines of lead guitar whirr and intertwine brilliantly with those catchy chord structures as swirling instrumental drones circumnavigate the entire track creating cyclonic frequencies that bounce and jostle for space in amongst lines of humming bass and hypnotic synth. There’s a subtle tinge of Californian psychedelia emanating from 'Apart' that is addictively delicious. That off beat jingle of tambourine coupled with the flutter of organ and that slow moving drum track instantly captivates as we’re led into a magnificent change of tack and those lead guitars whip and harass the piece into submission. The vocal lines here flow cleanly, easily hovering over that laid back groove too which only adds to the overall feel of the track. ‘Sooner’ soars into the ether on cyclonic waves of simmering synth, humming bass and jangling guitars that all meld effortlessly with those dreamy vocalisations courtesy of Katie Haley. Catchy chorus changes reminiscent of seminal era Lush are intensely captivating here also as are those twinkling tambourine shakes that arrive sporadically to ride that steady percussive swagger.
‘Know’ explodes into a riotous kaleidoscope of colourful sonic waves as those arcing 80’s themed synth lines merge with charging bass frequencies and the sheer rage of percussion. Swirling guitars circumnavigate around the vocal track menacingly, backed up with lines of lead and oodles of reverberation as we’re led through a brilliant song-structure and catapulted out into the ether. ‘Know’ is sublime and another highlight for me on this release. The serine opening bars of 'Still' meander into audible range gliding on lines of synth and layers of fuzzy guitar. It’s melodic vocal lines ride a steady wave of percussion and juggle blissful chord changes with ease. It’s a little slice of summery summer vibes all wrapped up in one dreamy shoegaze package. The albums penultimate piece comes in the form of ‘Enough’. Noisy guitars pull glistening swells of synth out into the open as that brilliant drum track keeps a metronomic tempo underfoot and the throb of bass frequencies tingle the senses. Vocal lines shimmer as they glide through those verse progressions and sparkle brightly as those twinkling electronics arrive and the soaring lines of synth carry them skywards through the scintillating chorus progressions whilst ‘Slip’, the albums closing piece, is one minute and twenty four seconds of melodic bliss and a fantastic finale to a wonderful album.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Del Chaney has spent the last five years dedicating his time to uncovering the best artists in the unsigned or small independent label based shoegaze, ethereal dream pop, postpunk & 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 genres 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.
RELEASE: Some Time
RELEASE DATE: 25th April 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
Hailing from Dallas, Texas, melancholic shoegazers 'Loom' have taken a slow almost processional approach to writing and recording their debut five track EP entitled 'Some Time'. Taking a year and half to create something this interesting stands as a testament to their songwriting skills. Self recorded, engineered and produced 'Some Time' skips nonchalantly through melodic passages of hazy shoegaze, slowcore and noisy alt-rock, showcasing a sound that some might be familiar with whilst newer arrivals to the scene will find endearing. The band are made up of Casey Dorris - guitar, Greg Nunn - guitar, Skylar Schexnayder - vocals, Sam Beaty - drums & Hunter Davis - bass. 'Some Time' was officially released back on the 25th April 2018 and is available to buy/dowmload right now via loom1.bandcamp.com
Some Time by Loom
Swirling clouds of fuzz permeated by twinkling lines of melodic guitar swings meticulously on top of slow moving percussion as ‘All I Ever Wanted’ enters into audible range. Hushed vocalisations dive into the melee of sound-waves bouncing alongside whooshing crash cymbals and the warbling hum of bass frequencies as we tumble brilliantly through layers of whirring reverberations. Up next, ‘Memories’ arrives on tingling layers of soaring guitars as the ping of sparse percussion keeps a rag-tag kind of tempo. Again we move slow here, dragging heady doses of fuzz into those haunting lines of vocal as the boom of heavier drum patterns keep a steady metronomic beat. There are sounds here reminiscent of underground acts like the UK-based ‘Dose’, Virginia-based ‘Keep’ or even those noisy Texans ‘Glare’. Impressive stuff and a definite highlight on this release.
‘Some Time’ rumbles into life rolling on a barrage of snare hits before diving headlong into deep resonating pools full of noise, fuzz and reverb. Jangling guitars accompany melancholic lines of vocal out into the abyss as we glide effortlessly through those hazy verse progressions before exploding into a chorus section packed with kaleidoscopic sound-waves. Ohh, and watch out for it’s intensely good swirling psychedelic finale. ‘Interlude’ does exactly as it says on the tin. Vocal samples cling to layers of reverb drenched guitars and meander brilliantly whilst the EP’s closing piece is probably the best track on the entire release. ‘Your Existence’ floats into the ether on waves of guitar, slow moving percussion humming bass frequencies and senses pummelling reverberation. It’s vocal track projects itself in as kind of off-kilter kind of way, hovering just below the mix but close enough to those impressive guitars so as to be noticed. Clocking in at over six minutes long, ‘Your Existence’ is definitely worth your time. All in all, as debut EP's go, ‘Some Time’ is a cracking little listen and it’ll be very interesting to hear what these guys do next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ARTIST: Soft Wounds
RELEASE: The Last EP
RELEASE DATE: 9th March 2018
'Soft Wounds' are a Toronto-based shoegaze/alt-rock duo who base their influence's off 90's era shoegaze and dream-pop; creating noise/filtered textures and filters that lay softly over the structure of linear alt-rock tracks. 'The Last EP' captures a colourful mixture of downtrodden and emotive alt-rock tunes which generally centre around a style of vocalization that sounds almost as if it is floating. Accompanying this are catchy guitar riffs and a melodic rhythm section that precisely captures the emotive state of the sounds at the forefront of the music. The band are made up of Charlie Berger and Matt Rimon. 'The Last EP' was officially released back on March 9th 2018 and is available to buy/download right now via softwounds.bandcamp.com
The Last EP by Soft Wounds
‘Story’ opens up proceedings on the EP, wherein the bands texturing is put on full display as the noise-laden backing to the music is covered by reverb soaked guitars and the rhythmic backdrop of drums. The guitars also feature the kind of heavy FX and audio manipulation found on some of the most seminal shoegaze releases of the past. If one were to pair back the guitar FX and un-dampen some of the background sounds, the song would present a more classic post-punk feeling; structurally it also echoes this frame. ‘Her Ghost’ takes the emotive soundscapes further, and slows down the tempo for an almost ballad like setting. Much like on ‘Story’ the riffs that weave in and around the rest of the instrumentation become the catchy centrepiece for the sound to float around upon. Of special note is the second half of the track and the soft sounds of the pre-outro where the tweaking pick of the guitar melds beautifully with the rhythm section. ‘Wide Open’ may be the best song on the EP: the riffs and layering of the sound offers a great line in the sand between all out FX guitar driven washdown and restrained and a more conservative guitar practice. The band gel together on ‘Wide Open’ perhaps most strongly than on any other song; somehow making the song sound strongly rehearsed but also slightly jam-oriented at the same time?
‘On The Fence’ sounds closer t0 a kind of dark dream-pop than it does to shoegaze or heavy alt-rock, however, its instrumentation remains the same as on previous track. In the context of the EP, as well as the strength of the previous songs, ‘On the Fence’ would potentially be the least interesting and engaging track on the EP. Why? It seems like elements of previous songs are re-used, which is fine, but they are disused in a uninteresting and unoriginal way, making it sound as though its features the weakest elements of the EP. Interestingly enough, ‘Watch You’, which follows on is one of the EP's greatest triumphs, introducing dynamic musical elements as well as the shimmering guitar sounds we all associate with shoegaze. ‘Finally’ is in some senses, Soft Wounds culmination of previously explored musical elements into one lengthy practice. The inclusion of beautiful background humming synths in the intros truly capture the beauty that seems to flow from the song.
On this EP 'Soft Wounds' truly hone their craft and capture, utilize and present their own sound for the listener. Their own sound, it should be noted, is in a sense a collective channel of influential bands in and around the genres of shoegaze, dream-pop, alt-rock and more. Where many bands utilize this influence, it is generally abused in a derivate sense more so than a transformation from something done into something original. My main criticism of the EP is by far the vocals. Whether it’s the production or mixing, or whether it’s the vocals themselves I’m not entirely sure; all there is to say is that they become overly whingy and at points present themselves so holy angelic and clean sounding that it is almost a distraction from the music itself. Also on some points the mixing makes things, specifically sounds in the background and the drums, murky and damp to the listener. Beyond that the EP is engaging and strong; most specifically through production and sound.
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 Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian-based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
by Primal Music
ARTIST: Wild Meadows
RELEASE: Wild Meadows
RELEASE DATE: 2nd March 2018
Wild Meadows are a Melbourne-based shoegaze/garage/alt-rock outfit whose self-titled eight track debut album sounds like a mix between 90’s neo-psychedlica in the vein of bands like Ride, and something a bit heavier and rock based, more in the taste of post-2000s alt-rock. Over the course of the album, the neat vocals of singer Jessica Lawrence sometimes soar, sometimes drown, over the tight rhythm section, guitar riffage and cloudy yet atmospheric synth lines… A worthy listen. The band are made up of Jessica Lawrence - vocals, James Ross - guitar/vocals/synth, Dylan Bird - guitar, Donovan Pill - bass & Simon Gemmill - drums/percussion. 'Wild Meadows' was officially released on March 2nd 2018 and is available to buy/download on various formats right now via wildmeadows.bandcamp.com
Wild Meadows album by Wild Meadows
Despite what it goes on to achieve, 'Wild Meadows' actually opens with the albums worst and most cliched track ‘First Exit’. The bass and drum performances are admirable, and the vocals are certainly in a suitable place, but altogether the song reaches no great convincing heights of either originality or enjoyment; it comes off sounding slightly ‘by the books’ alt-rock. Nevertheless, after the subjective false start, ‘Feel the Noise’ is one of the albums best tracks: a great blend between the softness of Lawrence’s vocals and the fantastic instrumentation which evokes the aforementioned 90’s neo-psych/shoegaze mix. The guitar tones and intricate bass performance join together to create a truly memorable and catchy chorus; the culmination of the track comes around the two-minute mark, where after a great bass riff, the band break into a free form instrumental passage: leading into the music atmospherically soaring. The follower, less dense ‘These Days’ is just as brilliant: it's strummed background guitar and steady drum pattern are good backups to the vocals, which this time are much clearer. Thanks to this very fact, the lyrics are more audible and could be judged as some of the best on the album. Altogether the song carries over the careful creation of an almost alt-pop sound that was heard on ‘Feel the Noise’, with catchy instrumentation and soothingly tended to production.
‘Fever’, with its backing vocals and rolling drums is a good example of how a band such as Wild Meadows can turn things slightly anthemic. The band again present a tight performance, with special note going to the drums, which at several points in the song descend into drill like fills as the rest of the band continue to craft a background soundscape that tends more to the alt-rock side of things. ‘Stay for a While’ is a post-punk sounding entry on the album, the hi-hat tap combines with the bass to create something 80’s inspired sounding. Later, the fantastic guitar tones and the hum of what sounds like a synth adds an almost dream-pop to the mix, resulting in one of the albums most simple yet most totally enjoyable tracks. The follower ‘Evergreen’ reiterates this form of simplicity and playfulness: ‘Evergreen’ features a great acoustic strumming pattern in the background. Notably, also, the song features male lead vocals, which adds a whole other dimension to the bands sound. The laid-back shoegaze/dream-pop undertones of the second half of the song are truly pleasant pieces of music.
‘Sunshine’ is a continuation of the laid-back alt-rock sound that band seeps into on the second half of Wild Meadows, featuring a more introspective instrumental backing. The vocals hazily sing of catching trains and the entire mood of song is heightened on the songs chorus where the players seem to crescendo into a more powerful and denser layering of their various instrumental compositions to the track. Somehow the bands save one of their greatest treasures for the second half of the release in the form of ‘Uzi’ which combines neo-psych with the tender and approachable sound of alternative rock. The vocals brilliantly hush down at the end of the lines meld with the brilliant guitar playing and a tight yet bright rhythm section… A worthy listen indeed.
Wild Meadows don’t do anything particularly original if we are looking at the scope of modern music: they’ve used a blueprint that was forged somewhere in the late 80’s, honed through the 90’s and established as a style in itself in the 2000s. But the way they use this blue print is of particular note. Things start dense, heavy, somewhat less lighter, and transition sonically into a comforting, laid back rock adventure, meaning that after you’ve listened to it all, it feels like the band have actually ventured somewhere. The production is very good, as is the mixing which balances the denser instrumentation brilliantly. Look, you’d better go listen to it yourself, that way you don’t have to read about it; you can actually enjoy the textures, the performances, the sound.
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 Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
Lost In A Dream by Dead Heart Bloom
New York based 'Dead Heart Bloom' have been releasing their brand of atmospherically astute soundscapes onto the world since 2005. Made up of vocalist/bassist Boris Skalsky and guitarist Paul Wood, 'Dead Heart Bloom' have had various contributors along the way add their weight to the bands collective sound, thus melding melodic dream pop, subtle electronic psychedelics and alternative rock together to create something very interesting indeed. Their latest digital single entitled 'Lost In A Dream' was released via a brand new independent net label based in New York City called 'Ephemeral Arts' and is available to buy /download right now from deadheartbloom.bandcamp.com
Black Monday / Infinites by Flashes
Cornwall based quartet 'Flashes' inject subtle shoegaze, alt-rock, dreamy melodies and sporadic psychedelic incantations into their collective sound to create instantly addictive soundscapes filled with sonic twists and turns. We reviewed their latest five track EP 'Rzhev' last year and now the band have followed it up with stunning two track single entitled 'Black Monday / Infinites' for our listening pleasure. The single had it's official release back on February 10th 2018 and is available to buy/download right now via flashesband.bandcamp.com
'Black Monday' shimmers as it enters audible range strapped to a beautiful guitar progression, underpinned with synth swells and the repetitive thud of bass drum. Swirling vocalisations arrive, wrapping themselves around deep tumbling bass frequencies as the track builds meticulously, injecting lines of synth, beautiful melody, psychedelic flourishes and catchy hook laden progressions into the mix whilst 'Infinites' is a sonic diamond in the rough. Soft sequenced percussion melds with building synths, lysergic tinged production and a repetitive guitar progression to form a wall of effervescent sound-waves used primarily to envelop that blissed out vocal performance. Cascading bass progressions add intense atmosphere as they swirl through huge layers of tumbling reverberation and resonating refractions, progressively catching the ear as soaring lines of synth scream skywards out into the ether. Absolutely stunning.
Let's Get Found - Single by great black night
Michigan based noise merchants 'Great Black Night' have been hiding as of late, busy deep within the underground firmament pickpocketing sounds from the shoegaze, alt-rock & indie rock categories of music to structure, mould & create what will be their highly anticipated debut album. For now though, the band have just unleashed a stunning double a-sided single entitled 'Let's Get Found/Goodnight Sweet Girl' to whet our sonic appetites. Steeped in glorious sound waves these two beautiful tracks distinctly highlight just what 'Great Black Night' are all about and is in fact a great jump off point for those of you reading this who are new to the bands brand of music. The single had it's official release back on February 14th (for all of you love birds out there) and it's available to buy/download right now via gbnlovesyou.bandcamp.com
Our good friends and Sicilian natives 'Clustersun' have unleashed a stunning new video to accompany the second single entitled 'Lonely Moon' to be taken from their highly acclaimed sophomore long player 'Surfacing To Breathe', released back in May 2017 via the brilliant Italian based independent record label 'Seahorse Recordings'. The band are made up of Marco Chisari - vocals /bass, Mario Lo Faro - guitars, Piergiorgio Campione - synthesizers/keyboards/backing vocals) & Andrea Conti - drums and their sound sits firmly within the shoegaze stable with underpinnings of post-punk, psych-gaze, goth and alt-rock. 'Surfacing To Breathe' is available to buy/download right now on various formats via clustersun.bandcamp.com
'Lonely Moon' swerves into modern dream-gaze territory as wave after wave of shimmering synth and soaring reverb drenched guitars loop & arc around a brilliantly executed drum pattern that carefully surrounds and protects that stunning vocal performance courtesy of Marco Chisari.
ARTIST: Tús Nua
RELEASE DATE: 15th September 2017
Every once and a while a brand new band comes along and gets me really excited about their music. Usually this aforementioned band comes straight out of left-field, far away from the usual underground cyclical music fraternity but with music that has the power to grab me by the ears and throw me willingly around a room. Back in July 2016 a little known band from Zagreb by the name of Tús Nua released their debut single 'Matches', then followed it up in July 2017 with their second single, the stunning 'Geysir', and I instantly fell in love with their sound. Collectively it consisted of melodic & atmospheric post-rock peppered at times with impressively hazy shoegaze moments that occasionally leans slightly into alt-rock territory and drags with it stunning vocalisations and impressive production values. This perfect combination of sounds have led the band to release their debut nine track album back on the 15th September 2017 entitled 'Horizons' and with the help of friends and fellow musicians they have put together one of my favourite albums of 2017 so far. The band are made up of Jordi Ilić – guitar/vocals/synths, Jelena Božić – guitar/vocals/synths & Matea Milevoj – bass guitar/back vocals/synths with guest appearances on various tracks by Sara Ercegović (ŽEN), Goran Grey (###), Lucija Potočnik (Irena Zilic), Eva Badanjak (ŽEN) & vana Picek (π). 'Horizons' is available to buy/download right now from tus-nua.bandcamp.com
Horizons by Tús Nua
Hazy, reverberating sonic reflections intertwined with sullen chord progressions build into an atmospheric crescendo as 'Tendons' winds itself up into a brooding maelstrom of sound. Subtle electronically styled percussive hits add intense depth as the track explodes into life pulsing haunting vocalisations out into the ether. It's luscious guitar progressions swirl in a magnificent undulating sweep through resonating refractions and echoing instrumentation. Up next, 'Matches' washes into audible range trembling on a thread of brilliantly atmospheric post-gaze. It swoons as its harmonious vocal track floats through the ether on a swirling foundation of addictive lead guitar licks and undulating synth lines. Its steadying percussive attack holds everything in place, gracefully leading the listener into explosive tempestuous finale thats filled to the brim with dreamy post-rock promise. 'There's A Thin Line Between Everything' jangles on a tremulous guitar progression as that haunting vocal track sucks you into the piece and leaves you floating brilliantly on swathes of shimmering reverb. Instrumentally this track ebbs and flows through explosive bass filled passages underpinned by mesmerisingly hazy guitars and stunning effects laden production that is steeped in ethereal atmosphere. 'Postcards With All Sorts Of Phrases' soars into the ether on streamlined guitars and ghostly atmospherics. 'Tús Nua' have this uncanny knack of building tracks slowly, before twisting and morphing them into massive melancholic beasts that teeter nervously on brilliantly executed drum patterns. Their tracks linger on addictive passages of guitar before diving headlong off the edge into mesmerisingly deep pools of shimmering shoegaze orientated instrumentation before climbing out and starting all over again. 'Postcards With All Sorts Of Phrases' is one of those tracks that brings you on a sonic journey from it's opening bars straight through until it's effects laden death throws. Simply stunning!
Up next, 'Geysir' opens up in a haze of jangling guitars, subtle synth swells and noisy atmospherics. Steady percussion keeps a firm bedrock underfoot as throbbing bass frequencies bubble and skip through entrancing verse progressions, deftly enveloping those impressive vocal skills. It soars through it's chorus parts with relative ease, swirling and tumbling through layers of reverberating instrumentation and magical lead lines effortlessly whilst 'Hills' fizzes into life on a 80's post-punk type of vibe before those sequenced synths start up and drag it into the modern age. Sublime vocals lead meandering guitar progressions on a merry dance through electronically charged percussion and subtle swells of synth led bass frequencies as those yearning vocalisations swirl and shimmer majestically. 'Fight!' is an angry brute that barks into life held fast to a punishing guitar progression as that slow moving percussion grinds through the ether on a wave of bass heavy frequencies and cascading lead lines. It builds into a menacing sonic behemoth dragging a vocal line out from somewhere within and drenching it in an interesting mix of post-rock, psych-rock and alt-gaze before 'Obvious' arrives on a lighter note with melodic guitars and blissed out vocals clinging to the throb of bass and a busy drum pattern. Lead guitars meander in and out of the overall mix as heavier passages of instrumentation rise and fall brilliantly, streaming through hazy reverberations and subtle lines of bubbling synth. The album closes out on a post-rock orientated gem. 'Repeat' is steeped in atmosphere and is underpinned from the off by another impressive percussive display that lays down a bedrock for those repetitive lead lines and that amazing vocal take. The hum of bass expertly hovers over deep lying synth as the track slows down to an addictive pace with 'Tús Nua' injecting a sort of lysergic/psychedelic hue into proceedings before fizzing out into a peaceful finale. A masterful end to a wonderful album.
Del Chaney has spent the last five years dedicating his time to uncovering the best artists in the unsigned or small independent label based shoegaze, ethereal dream pop, post punk & 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: Crash City Saints
RELEASE: Are You Free?
RELEASE DATE: 11th August 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Saint Marie Records
From the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan (apparently it’s across from Milwaukee, over Lake Michigan) comes 'Crash City Saints' and the interestingly bold and grand concept album they have created, entitled 'Are You Free?'. Released via the ever interesting 'Saint Marie Records' (whose back catalogue includes the impressive SPC ECO, Bloody Knives and The History of Colour TV), 'Are You Free?' tells the story of a boys attempts to mature and bloom in a small town in the 90’s when shoegaze was dense and on rotation in the mainstream and underground of the American music scene. 'Crash City Saints' have obviously utilized said music from the time and adopted it into a mix of shoegaze and alt-rock to tell a story over the course of twelve tracks that hails the significance of influence while also celebrating the freedom of originality in the context of modern music. 'Are You Free?' was released back on the 11th August 2017 and is available right now to buy/download on various formats via saintmarierecords.bandcamp.com
Are You Free? by Crash City Saints
The album opens with ‘Ice Cream’ a nice little jolt of pop-based alternative rock that highlights the hushed MBV style vocalisations and strumming acoustic guitar. There are several fantastic moments, including the churning-downtrodden shoegaze riffs that are touched upon at around the one minute thirty mark, as well as a tasteful string instrument in the background of the music. ‘Spring Lines’ owes more to a soft kind of neo-grunge rather than shoegaze, but nevertheless showcases the instrumentation and weave in-out aesthetic of the guitars. As it is on much of the album, the drumming is tight and impressive; highlighted sufficiently and smoothly in the mix. ‘Weirdos Need Love To’ fits in well as a kind of interlude between the narrative structure of the main songs whilst 'Use Once Then Dispose’ is an absolute album highlight; the post-punk double tap snare and 90’s inspired guitars meld fanatically together to create a rock-inspired atmosphere; the vocals hum away, touching on lyrically much darker themes than have been explored previously on the album. That’s not to say they are not well written, actually it’s quite the opposite. ‘Spirit Photography’ is a smooth, aesthetically enjoyable take on what sounds like 90’s era Brit-pop, while also (eventually) smothering the track in Shoegaze based guitar freak-outs. A very enjoyable experimental track, ‘Spirit Photography’ sheds the skin of the previous songs pop elements; making way for emotive and warped guitar based-psych passages of song writing. I assume ‘Act 2’ is named as such because it brings forth another stage of story and narrative; either way, as a song it feels one of little narrative importance (lyrics are drowned out in a vocal effects) while the whole song takes an almost lo-fi quality (not complaining).
‘Dawn of A Bright New Nothing’ introduces a fantastic Barrett-esque piano line into the mix, making the song one of the most purely enjoyable on the album. Yes, that’s right, this reviewer has significantly enjoyed a song because it sounds, is mixed and feels nice and relaxed. ‘Annabella’ returns to a much more alternative rock sound, the chord progression of the bass and guitar highlighting a progressive rock influence that played an integral role in the development of shoegaze music back in the 90’s. Its outro, featuring a guitar solo over the vocal chant/hum ‘you don’t know my name’ is particularly satisfying. Another interlude follows before one of the longest tracks of the album ‘The Hour Of The Wolf’ opens with a sequencer based EDM style sound. Although this aforementioned beat grows tiring after a while, this doesn’t cease the track from growing into a heavy, loud and colourful collection of sounds and noise, backed by the thrashing of the drums. The outro guitar picking is especially amazing and very much in-context of the seven minute long song. The following dream-pop based ‘Harbour Lights’ remains a sonic (but almost as equally lengthy) contrast to the previous wild melding’s of ‘The Hour Of The Wolf’. In fact, ‘Harbour Lights’ is an album highlight: the guitar tones and overall atmosphere of the song congregate into a dream pop/shoegaze breath of fresh air after the previous songs noise and drenched soundscapes.
Releasing a concept album of any type is a big and daring leap. Will people be able to detail the story (if the concept is narrative)? Will the story get in the way of the music? What about the other way around? 'Crash City Saints' have previously stated there is a narrative kind of concept behind the album, and at times while listening to 'Are You Free?' I was lost as to what (if anything) was actually going on, but then I realized that its concept lies beyond the realm of just a narrative. Over the course of the album the band swiftly (and at times intellectually subtly) incorporate and throw influence and nods to the American music underground of the nineties. There's grunge, dreampop, alt-rock, dance and electronica, shoegaze and many more… This album is a musical exploration in concept rather than a boring ‘he does this, then she does that’ kind of structure that tends to drag down and drown many ‘concept’ albums. The song writing is strong, although at times relies too heavily on formulas used on previous songs, even if it is a kind of throwback. The mixing and production (done so by Elliott Frazier of Ringo Deathstarr) is of course a brilliant, but also (if you listen to a lot of it) a well-rounded and respectful throwback to the music of the 90’s. Listen for an interesting story (accompianed and helped along by interesting lyrics), great instrumentation and playing, and a reminder of the brilliant and nostalgic music of a few decades ago, achieved through production, mixing and sound.