Going around in circles

shoe_gaze_best_songsMusic is cyclical, we all know that, 30 years seems to be the recognised time span for music to drop off the fashion radar long enough to seem cool or cult and be rediscovered and reinterpreted by a new musical generation. Brit-pop was a re-discovery of sixties guitar bands, punk was the distilled spirit of rock’n’roll for generation feeling similarly lost and even grunge had its roots in the garage rock and nascent metal scenes of a previous generation.

My own musical future-nostalgia moments, however, lie in an altogether more ambient place. Once the punks had shown us that making music was not just something for the dedicated, or indeed talented few, a whole movement of back bedroom aspirants began rewiring cheap keyboards and running battered guitars through homemade effects pedals and the result was glorious.

The sonic landscape that they described was one of drifting beauty and sharp angles, of raw guitars and delicate minimalism, of ethereal atmospheres and of industrial noise. It was supported by fledgling record labels such as 4AD and Sarah Records and was gathered into journalistic gangs and given names like dream-pop, shoe gaze, new-wave, underground-pop and new romanticism.

And if the likes of Kate Bush was proving that such new and defiant approaches could sell records via the more traditional model, bands such as The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and even The Birthday Party where the street corner punk hustlers pushing their own, more confrontational but no less beautiful sonic dreams.

And today, the circle has turned and those once lost, sweet sounds are finding their way into modern music once more as musicians discover that same acoustic beauty in the dusty corners of parents record collections and incorporate them into their own musical visions. Torchbearers such as Shameless Promotions gather and collect both new takes on the past as well as bands that have been carrying the flag for all these years. The Veldt’s reverb soaked soul, Ummagma’s chilled delicacy, the cavernous majesty of Tombstones In Their Eyes and Black Needle Noise building music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet are the centre of that new exclusive universe.

Bands such as Fassine come at these sounds from another angle, one which links chilled ambient dance with futuristic pop, which is both massively commercial yet effortlessly cool, a chart headed Trojan horse to spread subtle influences through a musical charm offensive.

The one advantage of staying close to music for so long is that you get to see a new generation get excited, deconstruct and redefine the sounds that made you fall in love with music in the first place.

This new wave of bands both pull nostalgic heartstrings and point the way towards a bright new dawn and for that I can’t thank them enough.



Lost in Reflections – Black Needle Noise (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Lost_In_Reflections_(album_cover).jpgAny album which bills itself as “music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet” is going to blip on this dream-poppers radar that’s for sure and not just blip but blip and resonate, shimmer and fade…luckily I have my radar plugged into a Big Muff and reverse reverb pedal for just such an occasion. John Fryer, the man behind the excellently named Black Needle Noise even uses the same hybrid language as me…”grindtronica overtones…ambient black magic….sonic sculptures” I think we are going to get along just fine.

Lost in Reflections is built on shimmering and ethereal pop, familiar yet otherworldly, as if some alien culture has heard our radio waves emanating into the cosmic ether, decided that pop music is our common language and has built this musical package as a way of trying to communicate with us.

It shifts between hazy, smoke–like drifts built more on emotion than musical substance and razor edged gothic drama, it writes scenes and conjures scenarios from very specific places such as “6am in cold Berlin” to dream like, existential journeys. It tempers industrial grind into stark beauty, it layers gossamer thin textures into opaque hues, it matches weight against the wait, the brutal with the beguiling.

But I guess Fryer’s ability to make musical worlds collide and reassemble the smashed pieces into new forms should come as no surprise. As a producer and engineer he has worked with an array of artists from The Cocteau Twins to Nine Inch Nails and alongside 4AD label boss Ivo Watts-Russell founded the in-house collective This Mortal Coil. Lost in Reflections shows that John Fryer is as exploratory and imaginative as he ever was.


Winter Tale – Ummagma + A.R. Kane (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ummagma-a-r-kane-winter-tale-cover-artworkTo say that this is a single built around cross pollination, across time, geography and style is still under selling how collaborative and encompassing of long distanced and disparate strands this is. Ummagma are a Canadian-Ukrainian dream-pop act of this generation; A.R. Kane were UK pioneers of the genre from back in the heady days of the emerging 4AD label, but it is definitely the common ground not the differences that is celebrated here.

In it’s original version Winter Tale is a heady swirl of dreamy-pop vibes, built very much on beat and melody, which ticks many of the same boxes as The Cadbury Sisters do, that perfect blend of pop accessibility and simple, bucolic beauty.

It is what happens when the aforementioned dream-pop soundscapers gets there hands on things that the song finds itself going down the rabbit hole. Those rigid structures and consistent beats are replaced with a warped template that connects dots between the experimentalism of the 4AD ethic and its re-emergence as post-rock. The music shimmers and collides, soars and trembles as if it scares itself, thankfully between the original and the extremes of this remix there is also a radio mix to act as a wonderful compromise.

It is the present being informed by the past, young acolytes putting themselves in the hands of past masters and whether you opt for the straight forward delivery or revel in A.R. Kane doing a spot of avant-gardening, it shows that oddly enough what is the most fragile and inconsistent of all musical genres is also one of the most long-lived and consistently mercurial, if that isn’t indeed too mutually exclusive an idea.


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