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Vapour Theories: Celestial Scuzz – album review

Vapour Theories Celestial ScuzzVapour Theories: Celestial Scuzz

(Fire Records)

LP | DL

Out Now

With Celestial Scuzz, Vapour Theories reminds us that we don’t need language to convey the strange senses of sadness and longing that so often accompany an idyllic solitude.

BUY HERE

Vapour Theories is a newly revived project from Bardo Pond guitarists and brothers John and Michael Gibbons. Long steeped in the fuzzy sounds of shoegaze, those guitars previously improvised a soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain (1973) with the other members of the band. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Celestial Scuzz also feels like music made for cinema. Together, John and Michael Gibbons produce visual soundscapes: spectral colours and images from the recesses of the listener’s memory. One of the most glorious things about shoegaze is its seemingly inherent ability to create synesthetic experiences for anyone with a willing ear. Celestial Scuzz does it so dazzlingly.

The album starts off with Unoccupied Blues, a song of more than 13 minutes that immerses us in the tungsten sounds of electric guitars. If you want to visualize the golden-hued light that pours down during the magic hour in the depths of winter, Unoccupied Blues can take you there. The LP moves into High Treason, the second and final song on Side A. High Treason conjures some of the softer and more enigmatic notes of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, just as the needle touches down on the vinyl.

Flip to Side B. Breaking Down (The Portals Of Hell) invites the listener into a discordant, anxious topography of sound. The music video for the song develops that cacophonous terrain, bringing forth the colours of burning 35mm film being projected onto a screen below. The video reminds us of the destructive force that music can make as it echoes cinematic fragments like those in Bill Morrison’s Decasia (2002).

The EP crescendos into The Big Ship, a dizzying and gorgeous Brian Eno cover with a music video that reads like a dreamy homage to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982). Cinematic sounds, indeed.

The final track, Soul Encounters, is enigmatically unnerving in part because of its length. Coming in at well under three minutes – a departure from the rest of Celestial Scuzzthe song leaves its listener haunted.

You can learn about new Vapour Theories music on Bardo Pond’s Bandcamp page, and you can purchase Celestial Scuzz from Sister Ray Records.

~

You can follow Audrey on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

The post Vapour Theories: Celestial Scuzz – album review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Pale Saints – The Comforts Of Madness (30th Anniversary Re-masters)

Pale Saints
THE PALE SAINTS

The Comforts Of Madness (30th Anniversary Re-masters)

1989 was a vintage year for so many reasons – not least the fact that so many great albums came out during that hallowed 12 month period (The Stone Roses’ debut, New Order’s Technique, The Cure’s Disintegration, Jesus And Mary Chain’s Automatic, Band Of Holy Joy’s Manic Magic Majestic, Pixies’ Doolittle, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, Lou Reed’s New York, Ultra Vivid Scene’s debut, Band Of Susan’s Love Agenda, and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising…to name just a dozen).

Year zero of the new decade, 1990, spawned an equally diverse glut of year-end personal favourites by the likes of Happy Mondays, Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, Neil Young And Crazy Horse, Fatima Mansions, Pixies (again), Band Of Holy Joy (again!), Public Enemy, Sonic Youth, Angelo Badalamenti/David Lynch and Mazzy Star…but the best of the lot in my own opinion arrived right at the start of the new year.

Newly signed to 4AD records, Leeds-based trio Pale Saints released their debut EP Barging Into The Presence Of God the previous year, 1989. Said EP contained their signature ‘hit’ song, the swooning and melodic indie classic Sight Of You, which also featured in John Peel’s festive fifty at the end of that year – at number 11 (one of the b-sides ‘She Rides The Waves’ also figured at number 25).

Through no real fault of their own, Pale Saints found themselves lumped in with many other similar bands of the time (Ride, Lush, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Telescopes, Moose, etc) under the ‘shoegazer’ scene – that took the post-Mary Chain template of ‘dream pop’ and noise/ feedback / guitar FX and distortion which was already pushed to ever more extremes by the revitalised My Bloody Valentine on their 1988 album Isn’t Anything.

However, Pale Saints also kept a lot of their initial jangle pop sensibilities intact – and their sound sometimes resembled earlier post C-86 acts such as McCarthy and fellow Leeds-formed indie legends The Wedding Present. In fact I would wager that one McCarthy song in particular from that era – Red Sleeping Beauty – was effectively the sonic template for Pale Saints: there is an uncanny resemblance in the way the busy drums anchor the sound of the melodic bass and choirboy vocals on that song which bring to mind the bass/vocals of Pale Saints frontman Ian Masters.

It was thus pretty damned smart of 4AD Records to usher in the new decade – and the very first of their 1990 releases – with a debut album from one of its brightest new hopes (as voted by Melody Maker), and, to be absolutely fair, they did not disappoint.

It’s hard to believe that three decades has already elapsed since this remarkable album was first released, but the most gratifying thing of all is how it still sounds like it could have been issued a few weeks ago! It really has withstood the test of time.

The moment the needle drops onto the vinyl record, you sensed that this was a debut album that was quite unlike any other. What other LP starts with a frantic drum solo for god’s sake? Followed almost immediately by the band going hell for leather apeshit with crazed guitar and bass manglings? This one! But don’t be discouraged by this rather surprising opening salvo…this was the band merely exhibiting their gleeful perversity, as the opening track proper Way The World Is kicks in after 30 seconds with a supremely confident chiming guitar and bass intro.

So is this Art rock? Avant garde noise? Chaotic thrashing? None of this and all of this! Pale Saints are revelling in messing with your perceptions here and this is what makes The Comforts Of Madness such a truly satisfying and rewarding listen – even for the first time.

The album has no gaps between the tracks – it is designed to be listened to as a cohesive whole: one number running into the next, and the band take this maxim to a gloriously inspired level, inserting strange ghostly links or bizarre off kilter passages between each listed track to tie the whole thing together into one complete continuous listening experience.

This shrewd tactic arose directly from the way they performed their live shows, where they would veer off into all kinds of sonic adventures to fill the gaps between the songs which would otherwise be filled with awkward silences and re-tunings of instruments or – perish the thought – speaking to the audience.

Interestingly, one very celebrated and hugely influential and much-eulogised album which arrived later the following year (November 1991) would adopt this exact same method and would then get all the plaudits for it. None other than My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. All those weird links between tracks on a ‘classic shoegaze album’ huh? Well, sorry to rain on their parade, but Pale Saints clearly did it first!

Thus: Way The World Is crashes majestically into the bleached out guitar fuzz that signals the next track You Tear The World In Two, which in turn steamrollers its way towards its thunderous climax and then stopping dead via some eerie ambient guitar atmospherics before the dreamy centrepiece of the first half Sea Of Sound – which is so languidly beautiful and majestic it could be a rewrite of some long-lost 1970s prog-pop epic for all we know.

True Coming Dream, which follows, reverts back to the frantic tempo of the first two songs with its almost Wedding Present-like bass intro which accelerates prodigiously before exploding into the surging intro. After two cacophonously exhilarating minutes, the track decelerates again only to flow seamlessly into the curiously whimsical bongo-and-dulcimer-led lullaby Little Hammer, which closes the first half.

The second half is even more astonishing – as if our expectations of the band being able to sustain this quality throughout was ever going to be called into question.

Insubstantial is one of their strongest songs – live as well as on record. When it climaxes (again!), the band veer off into what is probably the most frenzied wig out of them all – careening and bludgeoning their way through 30 seconds of pure gleeful anarchic atonality rather like naughty kids jumping all over freshly-laid wet cement, with Chris Cooper’s demented drum rolls and Graeme Naysmith meting so much abuse to his guitar it sounds as if it is having the living daylights throttled out of it. It’s this distressed mewling at the very end that sounds for all the world like a cat (the one that graces the record cover?) being strangled!

The segue straight into the bass intro that opens A Deep Sleep For Steven is nothing short of genius. This track is immense, a huge sonorous reverbed fog formed from colossal ice sheets of treated guitar, insistent ringing basslines and waves of cavernous, crashing drums. This is narcotic dream music in excelsis, effectively reprising the sound perfected by noise/dream pop pioneers A.R Kane a couple of years earlier. If anybody were to ask what the definitive shoegazing sound was like – then point them to this track. It simply wipes the floor with the competition!

The Language of Flowers restores the fast paced tempos once again, a beautiful jangly pop moment with Ian’s choirboy vocals showcased to the fore, before its abrupt fade into the stampeding intro of their brilliant cover of Opal’s Fell From The Sun, which maintains the adrenalised momentum.

The sublime Sight Of You is next, albeit in rerecorded and speeded up form from the EP version, before the album closes with the schizoid tempo-shifting tour de force that is Time Thief: alternating between slower verses pinned by Chris’s martial tom rolls, Ian’s chorused basslines, and curious piano chimes before then swiftly gathering speed and bursting into the noisy catharsis of the refrains. A pause for breath, and then they repeat the whole thing all over again.

When this track smashes to a triumphant close, you are led to believe the album is over, but the distinctly unsettling noise of what sounds like a distressed cockatoo squawking which follows after a short silence tells you that this band have plenty of pranks lined up their sleeves.

The second disc/LP in this sumptuously packaged 30th anniversary issue features their one and only John Peel Session as well as many demos of all of the album tracks. These versions are not that dissimilar from the finished versions – give or take slight tweaks in tempo or arrangement/production. This is because the tracks were so fully formed anyway before they were finally released that if anything it is testament to how the band were already confident and assured in their approach to recording the album. And the final results speak clearly for themselves.

Pale Saints were never that prolific: They would issue just four EPs (one per year) and only one more album (1992’s more reflective In Ribbons) before Masters departed in 1993, and though that album is also a very strong work in its own right and more consistently produced, with some truly beautiful moments and some tracks written and sung by fourth Saint Meriel Barham – who would join the band for the next two EPs Half Life (1990) and Flesh Balloon (1991) – it lacks the sheer verve and exhilaration of their more focused and barnstorming debut.

Such a consistently great record from start to finish and with barely a weak point anywhere in sight. This remains the band’s finest recording and greatest artistic statement. It is just such a shame that it has never been held in the same high regard and esteem as so many other similar albums of its genre. For me it is the equal of – if not better than – the much feted Loveless! And if that proclamation is regarded by some as heresy then frankly dear, I don’t give a damn.

~

All words by Martin Gray 

The post Pale Saints – The Comforts Of Madness (30th Anniversary Re-masters) appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Tourists: Another State – album review

TouristsTourists

Another State

Modern Sky UK 

Out Now

The inviting first album from the Torquay-based Tourists calls back to the past with its potent synth tracks and frenetic drumming, all while offering a distinctly modern sound. 

Another State is a carefully constructed entity, a whole – each track feels as if it’s in dialogue with what came before and what ultimately follows, both in language and sound. It’s ultimately a sonically driven record, with lyrics highlighting some of the melancholy themes imbued in each song. Silent Type, the first track, gently draws us in as it illumines the interplay between aural and visual cues that drive Another State

I can’t escape those prying eyes
I can’t escape those prying eyes
I can’t escape those prying eyes

The lyrics fade out about a third of the way through, perhaps an ironic nod to the song’s title. Yet the instrumental sounds that follow are anything but speechless as they envelop us in an atmosphere originally sculpted by bands like the Cure, the Smiths, and Echo & The Bunnymen. As Silent Type recedes, songs like Align and Smokescreen come in to pay homage to Stephen Morris’s drumming and Hooky’s bass lines, reaching out to listeners who wonder if there’s any good music getting made these days. The tracks feel like they were carefully crafted by a band listening to a lot of Joy Division and New Order. Those nostalgic sounds pick up again on Blindside, more than halfway through Another State. When I asked the band about their musical influences, I mentioned some of those 1980s sounds that emanated from the recorded. The band replied:

“Yeah, those influences are in there. Some of these songs have been about for quite a few years, some more recent. So the list of bands and influences over that time span is huge…the post-punk influences have always been there underlying, and we love bands like Joy Division and Gang of Four. Then more recently, we’ve taken inspiration from bands like Preoccupations, Froth, Beach House, The War on Drugs, Slowdive, Interpol, NEU, Lower Dens. Those kinds of influences are all in there on the album I think.

As if speaking directly to Blindside through song, the follow-up track is an instrumental Black Friday, introducing more of the shoegaze and dream pop elements that are also at work across the album. Another State ends wistfully, speaking softly to the ephemerality of music, of space, and of time:

Four nights ago I prayed
I felt the sun shining across my face
And I learnt another state
It was fine and I felt safe
Such a calm and lonely place
We can’t stay here too long
We can’t stay here too long

The video for Another State draws on those themes, full of fading footage and aging sunlight.

I speculated that the band’s spatial roots in Torquay materialise across their music, and they gave weight to my suspicions:

“Our music has definitely been influenced by where we’re from and the slow pace of life we have here in Torquay. We tried to pay tribute to that with the video for our recent single Another State. It’s quite a chilled, dreamy track that we recorded in the summer, and I think it probably reflects us as people and where we’re from the best of all these album tracks (we recorded the guitar outside so you can hear the seagulls in the intro!). We have always felt in our own bubble down here, not overly influenced or constrained by other bands or any sort of scene, so it’s enabled us to stay authentic and do our own thing.”

While the album certainly has a coastal feel, some of the darker tracks also have a grittiness to them. Daniel Schlett (The War on Drugs, DIIV), perhaps unsurprisingly, produced Another State. I asked the band about Schlett’s influence on the album, and they spoke about his distinctive approach:

“It was a real privilege to work with Daniel, who’s really on the top of his game. We knew what we wanted with this record—to capture our live sound and to get a more atmospheric, raw, dynamic feel with the production. We knew from his previous work with bands like DIIV and The War on Drugs that he would be the perfect man for this aesthetic, so we got in touch with him and sent him some tracks…He agreed to mix the album at his studio Strange Weather in Brooklyn, New York, and he totally nailed it.

The band is desperate to return to playing for crowds in a post-pandemic world. When it comes to gigs and live music, their words say what we’re all thinking:

“I think it’s what we all need. To be in a room together again, enjoying live music, embracing each other. It’s what makes us human. I don’t think anyone will take that for granted again after this whole Covid experience.”

You can listen to Another State on Bandcamp, and you can follow Tourists on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

~

Audrey J. Golden is a literature and film professor who lives in New York. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

The post Tourists: Another State – album review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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Holy Drone: Fibres – single review

HOLY DRONE

Fibres

Out Now

A shoegaze lullaby for a world that longs for heartening sounds.

After the first lockdown, Holy Drone came together to make new music, and Fibres reflects the optimism yet precarity of a world traversing a once-in-a-century pandemic. The song is strikingly contained and even-keeled, then slowly punctuated by the ups and downs of a pitch that doesn’t rest. Emma Taylor’s voice melds lyrics with the resonating elements of fuzzy guitars and keys, inviting us to imagine the words that guide the music. Like many of the best dreampop singles, the listener gets lost in the luscious vibrations of the song. 

One of the great things about shoegaze is its invitation to a synesthetic experience, and Fibres is no different. The sounds are balmy and bright, welcoming us into a fading summer day even as the weather cools and heads into a fretful autumn. It’s easy to image Fibres in a work of cinema, accompanying Terrence Malick-style tungsten images during a lost golden hour. The song’s beginning and end blend into one, urging us to listen on repeat as the warmth of Fibres never ceases. I’d love to hear it play on vinyl. 

The graphic design of the new single reflects the song’s vulnerability and resilience in a strange world: irregular hand-drawn lines, or fibres, in complementary teal and pink shades. The etchings of a shaky hand remain in conversation with one another as they work together to form whole parts, creating anthropomorphic signs crying out to be seen. Ultimately those images overlay a saturated honey, conjuring an unseasonably warm November.

Fibres is just the most recent single from Holy Drone, a band that has been making dreampop hits since 2016. Out of Warrington, the band has had previous success with releases including Northern Fire, Radio Song, and Washed Out. Earlier EPs include Danxia in 2016 and Learn to Swim a year later. If Holy Drone was able to imagine a song as luscious as Fibres during the first lockdown, I look forward to hearing the sounds that come out of what seems likely be a heavy winter. We need more shoegaze lullabies to help us sleep.

You can listen to Fibres here:

You can find Holy Drone on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and YouTube.

~

Audrey J. Golden is a literature and film professor who lives in New York. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

The post Holy Drone: Fibres – single review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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