too much typing—since 2003

6.08.2005

The Dance of the Thousand Pedals

There was a curious little trend for a few years in the early to mid-nineties: it seemed like one or two reviews in most indie-oriented venues would refer to "shoegazing" or (less often) "dreampop" in describing what a band might be doing - but invariably, such references were disdainful and implied that the genre had long since reached its sell-by date. The irony, of course, is that if a couple-few CDs every month or two were being reviewed that bore comparison to those stylistic ideas, how could it be said to be an extinct style?

Still isn't...even though I've always hated that name "shoegazer" (although the title here alludes to one critic's quip that those bands were staring down at their shoes more to make sure they chose the right pedal from the many options cluttering the floor around them), and "dreampop" is rather icky too. (Although I've always thought of the first as being from My Bloody Valentine noiseward, whereas the latter moves from its polestar of Cocteau Twins and radiates, ultimately, rather in a gothic vector. Those definitions might be just my own though.) Other names are even worse.

Anyway, despite the lack of a good decent name, the idea of layering a whole mess of guitars and/or other sounds over a song-based core structure (although not always song-based) seems less like a genre to me than a particular, always potentially viable approach. Here are a couple of recent tracks that seem to fit somewhat under the rather vague shoegaze/dreampop rubric.

First up is Rob Montejo, whose site I ran into linked from Bullette's site (see my recent blurb thereon). The track on Bullette's album that he did most the music for intrigued me ("We Are Not from Sugar"), so I was inspired to check out more of his music. "Anodyne" is a reminder that you can achieve a textured, layered sound with acoustic guitars (something MBV did on a couple tracks), particularly if you exploit open, resonant strings and chords with discordant suspensions (you know: that B-major thing where you slide the E-shape up the neck but leave the bottom E-string open...). Odd synth(?) noises add texture, and the track features a floating, disembodied coda.

Next up is a band, Soft, whose website is long on white space, photos, and video but a bit lacking in info...so I can't say much about them except one of their guitarists found my site, e-mailed me, and asked me to check out their stuff. (Aside: I enjoy hearing new music...but because I don't get that much in the way of listen-to-me mail, I'm actually somewhat less inclined to discuss it here - at least at first. So, uh, if you want my ten readers to read about your band, don't let me know you exist. Yeah, I know...) Anyway (despite the parenthetical) I ended up rather liking the two songs from their new single, in particular "Droppin'." That little guitar lick near the beginning seems kind of Modestly Mouse-ish - but the rest of the song isn't. It's got that hi-hat-on-the-offbeats thing that a handful of '80s bands used (and, quite differently, some disco acts too), but I think what I like most (and why I'm shoving it into the subject of this entry) is the combination of multiple guitar textures with the quiet, low-key vocal approach.

That technique can be heard in our vintage selection of the day, "No. 1 Fan" by Majesty Crush (this song's on their 1993 album Love 15: between that title and the song "Seles," it would seem someone's got a bit of a tennis fetish...). This song has only four chords - but they're four interesting chords, and the bassist recognizes that, hey, you don't have to play the root of the chord all the time; that not playing it can give the chord sequence both melodic interest and a sort of slightly off-balance momentum from a weakened sense of harmonic resolution. And I'm not sure why the early '90s was such a bull market for stalker songs: there's this one, of course (and damn I hope the Secret Service isn't listening to my site), and Sonic Youth's "Wish Fulfillment," as well as their brilliant cover of the Carpenters' "Superstar." At any rate, the singer's breathy insinuation is both intriguing and creepy, a presentation that fits the subject very well (as does the insistence of the chord sequence: this guy's not giving up). Note there's also only one or two verses; the band shows confidence in sticking to such limited materials for just short of four minutes, but manipulates texture and suspense to keep the track interesting.

(In ten years is someone going to be posting "neo-emo" tracks? In the words of Ozzy: "oh no no please god help me"...)

Rob Montejo "Anodyne"
Soft "Droppin'"
Majesty Crush "No. 1 Fan"

1 comment:

d.w. said...

One of my favorite new bands this year are Engineers, who are definitely working this not-genre. I think their debut album is officially slated for US release this month, though I've had it since March or so.