I’m always skeptical when bands reunite after 20 or so years. Nostalgia is great and all, but these reunions are usually hollow in nature with the band touring with no new material, or worse they release an album that is a pale imitation of what they once were. A few years back, the Woodentops reunited for some sporadic shows in their native UK, released a best of album (Before During After was complete with unreleased tracks and remixes) and then seemed to slip back into dormancy.
Back in 1988, sometime after the release of Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway and the making of their next album, front man Rolo McGinty put the band on ice. I don’t know how close they were to completing album number three, but I have a Columbia Records compilation with a song called People of Today that was slated for the record. A year or so later I saw House of Love when they toured in support of Babe Rainbow. Guy Chadwick had drafted Woodentops guitarist Simon Mawby to take Terry Bickers place. I remember briefly asking Mawby at that show what happened to the Woodentops. Mawby’s response was something to the effect that Rolo had gone acid house and just lost interest in what the Woodentops were doing.
So I assumed that we would never hear another Woodentops record. Well, well, well thankfully that was not the case. The Woodentops are back. McGinty, Mawby and bassist Frank de Fritas have reunited and it ain’t a nostalgia trip. You know it’s the Woodentops as soon as you hit play, though the band don’t come off as hyper as they did 25 years ago. There’s no Get It On, Stop This Car or Shout, but that’s fine because that was 25 years ago. Woodentops 2.0 are more measured, but no less intense. At first songs seem slower, but McGinty can dial up intensity in more ways than just tempo. Mawby’s guitar sounds pristine, McGinty’s voice sounds like he’s not aged a day and the subtle intricate touches of percussion on each song makes everything sound fresh. Third Floor Rooftop High is the song that sounds most like the band’s heyday, but they throw in some Rolling Stones or Beatles psychedelia into it to make it the same but different. What Was Taken I Don’t Want It Back may be my favorite song on the album and the most mellow, but its gentle beginning builds into breathless crescendo. Granular Tales is like a comedown record, something you would put on after a hard night out. It has the ability to you on the dance floor. Its strength is that it knows that it could, but it is just fine keeping you in your comfortable in your chair with a huge smile on your face.
Welcome to day two of the half year round-up. Giddy-up! Here are the next set of seven records from the first half of this year that I think deserve your attention. It’s kind of an eclectic bunch but in at least one warped world they go quite well together.
It seems like it’s been ages since those first couple Myron & E singles came out. I had nearly lost hope of them ever releasing an album, but the wait was worth it. Broadway is more than worth the wait, evoking Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On which is no easy feat. The Motor city may be bankrupt, but its soul legacy keeps paying dividends. Top notch stuff.
Part of Me Moan sounds like Gibson grew up with the Stuart Copeland and Stan Ridgway song Don’t Box Me In on repeat. The other part sees Gibson reading from the same book as Dan Bejar was on Destroyer’s Kaputt. Both parts consist of lush and sweeping 80’s inspired pop from a unique voice.
Descending from the Intelligence family tree, this Seattle trio fronted by Australian ex-pat Jo Claxton deliver serrated pop that teases and caresses before puncturing skin. This very sharp record deserves way more attention than it has received, because it’s pretty damn brilliant and would look fine next to your Intelligence, Fall and Dolly Mixture records.
The new life sounds like dark era Cure (Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography) without being too obvious. It didn’t immediately grab me, but its hypnotic bass and vocals has made gradually overcome my conscious and now The New Life is my go-to record when the need often comes to zone out into the horizon which is quite often.
Ooga Boogas have not left their garage roots, but the garage has been remodeled or converted rather. The record walks the line between ECSR and Total Control and sidesteps into Velvet Underground, Tubeway Army, the Fall,Modern Lovers and the Soft Boys territories.
stream: Ooga Boogas – A Night to Remember
House of Love – She Paints Words In Red (Cherry Red)
House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers acrimoniously left the band during the recording of the band’s second album. Since then he mad ammends with HOL frontman Guy Chadwich and they made a reunion record Days Run Away back in 2005. It was ok. Eight years later they’ve record a follow up that is immediate, elegant and while not quite reaching the heights of their debut it feels like they’ve recaptured the fire that blazed in their creative partnership.
Dutch wunderkind pulls out all the psychedelic stops on his debut album. Amazing harmonies done to the backing of exquisite chamber pop backing. If you ever thought that the Left Bank sounded too effeminate and that Syd Barrett was too zany Gardner strikes just right balance.
A couple of recent shoegaze album lists from Sounds Better with Reverb and Surfing on Steam prompted me to recall those heady days of shoegaze between 1988 and 1994. My recollection wasn’t about the great albums, though there were some, but about the EP’s. Those of us there at the time know that it was all about the EP. Albums were slow to come and often disappointing but the EPs came quick and were often a band’s pinnacle. Often a band would do a brilliant EP and then never reach the same heights on the album, or never even make an album. Here is my list of favorite shoegaze EP’s from that time.
The Boo Radleys – Every Heaven EP (Rough Trade)
I believe this got single of the week in Melody Maker and for good reason. The killer bass line of The Finest Kiss draped over by shards of blistering guitar are a recipe for single of any week. This EP along with Boo Up! and Kaleidoscope make for an unsurpassed shoegaze EP trilogy.
Interesting Info: If you hadn’t noticed this blog is named after The Finest Kiss, the lead track on this EP.
Stream: The Finest Kiss
Sweet Jesus – Real Babe (Rough Trade)
No one ever mentions Sweet Jesus when they talk about shoegaze which is a minor crime. At the time they got tagged as the T-Rex’s of scene. These guys released four ep’s and each one of them is a shoegaze classic.
interesting Info: Many people thought singer Ben Bently was a girl based on his singing voice. He also had a beehive hairdo.
Stream: Real Babe
Chapterhouse – Mesmerize (Dedicated)
Mesmerize was kind of a psychedelic curve ball after the blissed out Whirlpool album with its piano riff and tuba blasts. This is the pinnacle of the Chapterhouse discography. Four songs pushing the boundaries of what people thought shoegaze was.
Interesting Info: My roommate in college played this EP so much he nearly made me hate it. He would not only play it to death, but sing Mesmerize a capella at top volume. Weird.
Headtime – Have You Heard EP (Cherry Red)
Headtime probably got lumped into the shoegaze crowd because they favored a big guitar sound and had a slightly blurry fish cover for their first EP. The title track features some sitar which may be a first. In any event it’s a much better instrumental choice than the flute (hello Blind Mr. Jones).
Interesting Info: There is very little information to be be gleaned from the internet about this band. Richard Formby produced this EP. Headtime made one other EP called Graham before disbanding.
Stream: I Visualize
Moose – Jack (Hut)
Moose quickly eschewed the shoegaze tag on their first album XYZ, but their first two EP’s are firmly entrenched in the scene that celebrated itself. They would do an about face and get Mitch Easter to produce their first album and it would be brilliant. Not really a surprise since this is brilliant also.
Interesting Info: Moose toured the US opening for the Cocteau Twins in the mid 90’s.
Curve – Blindfold EP (Anxious)
Mining the industrial side of shoegaze, Curve’s first EP was pretty impressive. They had a rapper (JC-001) on Ten Little Girls, Wah Wah guitar on I Speak Your Every Word. The duo of Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday could do no wrong in the eyes of the British Press during the run of initial EPs. The Frozen EP and the Cherry EP soon followed, but didn’t reach the heights of this one.
Interesting Info: Toni Halliday put out a solo album called Hearts and Handshakes prior to forming Curve. Yes it’s as bad as the title suggests.
Stream: Ten Little Girls
My Bloody Valentine – Tremelo (Creation)
No shoegaze list is complete without the godfathers of shoegaze. The Tremelo EP upped the stakes for everyone. These were guitars!?!? They sounded like flutes and sound tubes. Kevin Shields could probably make his guitar sound like purring kitty cat if we wanted to
Interesting Info: I once interviewed Kevin Shields and asked him about his lyrics. That’s why I don’t get paid to do this.
Revolver – Venice (Hut)
Revolver were a trio of teenagers that took a powerpop bent on shoegaze. Their first two EPs (45 and Crimson) were spotty, but the third one really seemed catch them finally living up to their potential. Red All Over is great and their cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday was a pleasant surprise.
Interesting Info: Revolver released on one album called Cold Water Flat. Singer and guitarist Mat Flint currently plays in Deep Cut.
Stream: Red All Over
Pale Saints – Half-life Remembered (4AD)
A concept EP about life in the womb. This EP was produced by Chris Allison who had recently worked with the Wedding Present and he did make them sound a bit more rocking. This is probably the most straightforward the Pale Saints ever sounded. If you bought the vinyl version of this, it had a freaky hidden fifth track called The Colour of the Sky. To hear it you had the lift up the needle and place it down. Your reward was Ian Masters shrieking at the top of his lungs.
Interesting Info: Masters left the Pale Saints after their next album In Ribbons and Meriel Barham took over singing duties on the band’s final underwhelming album Slow Buildings.
Stream: Half-life Remembered
House of Love – Christine (Creation)
This may be a stretch, lumping the House of Love in with the shoegazers, but I would argue that Christine is early and influential in the scene. It’s droning vocal and buzzing guitars would be a blueprint many subsequent bands would use.
Interesting Info: This EP featured Andrea Heukam who provided vocals on the Hill. She left the band soon after.
The Bardots – Pretty O (Cheree)
Veering toward the dreampop side of shoegaze the Bardots featured the feminine sounding Simon Dunford on vocals. Similar to Sweet Jesus, many people thought he was a girl when they heard him sing. The Pretty-O EP featured big hooks and great guitars. The younger me didn’t appreciate them as much as the older me does now. Both of their albums Eye Baby and V-Neck are worth seeking out as is their first single Sad Anne.
Interesting Info: The Bardots featured Krzysztof Fijalkowski on guitar, the brother of Adorable singer Pete Fijalkowski.
Stream: Pretty O
Ride – Ride (Creation)
This came out in the US on the Smile compilation which combined this EP and the Play EP. For my money Chelsea Girl and Drive Blind are unbeatable. Drive Blind would become Ride’s You Made Me Realize.
Interesting Info: Andy Bell went on to play in the mostly awful Hurricane #1 and then play bass in Oasis.
Stream: Chelsea Girl
Swervedriver – Duel – (Creation)
Up until Duel I didn’t have much interest in Swervedriver’s take on Dinosaur Jr. With Duel they started to forge a new path. This three song EP had no filler, but it was easy to overlook Plane Over the Skyline and Year of the Girl due to the fact the Duel blistered like a star in very close proximity.
Interesting Info: Swervedriver have a history of bad luck with record labels. They were dropped from Creation a week after the release of their best album Ejector Seat Reservation and then after signing with Geffen in the US, they were dropped just before their fourth album was to be released. It would be years before that album 99th Dream would see the light of day.
Lush – Mad Love (4AD)
Lush never really lived up to the promise of their first three EPs. Scar was the second in that line and if featured Lush free of expectations. De-Luxe and Downer are blissed out and blistering and Thoughtforms is a great shoegaze lullaby.
Interesting Info: After Lush broke up Miki Berenyi retired from bands, though she has been coaxed to come out of retirement briefly by Eric Matthews and Hard Skin. Emma Anderson went on to form Sing-Sing with Lisa O’Neill.
Slowdive – Holding Our Breath (Creation)
Slowdive were the downers of shoegaze. The mellow youngsters who sounded like they had been doing this sort of thing for ages. This EP featured one of the best Slowdive songs Catch the Breeze which would show up later on their first album, but it also contained the equally mesmerizing Shine and a cover of Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair.
Interesting Info: Slowdive would later become a techno group on their final album Pygmalion and then leader Neil Halstead would junk all of his effects pedals and go alt-country in Mojave 3.
Telescopes – Celeste (Creation)
Telescopes were the shoegaze band that never seemed to get any respect. They were on the right label and they had good songs, but never seemed to catch on. Maybe it was because their albums never reached the heights of the songs on the Celeste EP and its precursor Everso.
Interesting Info: The Telescopes are still around and are playing the Comet here in Seattle April 15.
February Fourteenth – Lilys (Slumberland)
The Lilys first incarnation was as a shoegaze band. Their first single may have been unfairly disparaged for sounding too much like My Bloody Valentine. Criticisms aside, it was uncanny how they took the MBV baton and ran with it on a shoe string budget.
Interesting Info: Lilys went on to morph into a mod pop band and scored a hit single and a Levis advertisement in the UK.
Stream: February Fourteenth
Ecstasy of St. Theresa – Fluidtrance Centauri (Free)
Shoegaze knows no borders. This Czech band were always on the perifery of the scene due mostly to geography and their tendency to change their sound every couple of releases. All three songs on this EP have classic quiet-loud moments that shoegaze fans cannot get enough of.
Interesting Info: Ecstasy of St. Theresa teamed up with British Sea Power in 2004 to release the single A Lovely Day Tomorrow sung in both English and Czech.
Velocity Girl – My Forgotten Favorite (Slumberland)
Not many American bands contributed anything new to shoegaze, but Velocity Girl with this single seemed to take what was going on in the UK and put their own mark on it. My Forgotten Favorite is a classic and the b-side Why Should I Be Nice To You is no slouch either.
Interesting Info: The original singer in the band was Bridget Cross. She left the band after the release of their first single I Don’t Care If You Go and went on to join Unrest.
Stream: Forgotten Favorite
Bleach – Snag EP (Way Cool)
Bleach were briefly shoegaze and then they became something else and then they broke up. The Snag EP was a perfect snapshot of that sweet spot. Bethesda still holds up after 22 years.
Interesting Info: I got nothing. They were from Ipswich?
Adorable – Sunshine Smile (Creation)
I always thought Adorable were more Bunnymen than shoegaze, but consensus says that they were shoegaze and who am I to argue? This three song EP is packed with two of the band’s best songs. Sunshine Smile crashes into the room and totally wrecks it and then A To Fade, which singer Pete Fijalkowski says was heavily based on the Go-Betweens Cattle and Cane, heals all the wounds.
Interesting Info: Fijalkowski went on to form Polak with his brother Krzysztof. He has most recently been working with House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers.
Stream: Sunshine Smile
Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic (Polydor)
One of the great things about these shoegaze EP’s was that the bands treated them it might be their last release, packing them with great songs. Catherine Wheel were no exception. Everyone knows Black Metallic, but buried on this EP is Let Me Down Again which I always thought was as good as the title track.
Interesting Info: Catherine Wheel were the most successful UK shoegaze band in the States, probably due to their heavier tendencies and willingness to tour. Singer Rob Dickenson is the cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson.
Stream: Let Me Down Again
Nyack – Savage Smile EP (Echo)
This EP was so good and then then the follow up album was kind of a let down. Nyack were from Nyack, New York (duh), but didn’t sound it. They sounded english and they had an English record label. The only give-away that they were from NY was Blondie cover. That aside This EP’s other three songs were all aces.
Interesting Info: Before they were called Nyack, they went by Aenone and released a similar sounding EP on Kramer’s Kokopop label.
You might remember Pesaro, Italy’s Brothers In Law released their first single around this time last year. The band are back and set to follow up that stellar piece of pop with their first album, Hard Times for Dreamers to be released on 30 January on WWNBB and CF-records. The first single from the album is called Leave Me (Shadow II). It’s a darting guitar laden slice of perfection that hits the heights that the Kitchens of Distinction and House of Love use to routinely inhabit. Have a gander above at the video for the song which was filmed by Ryan Ohm.
The guys are planning to be at SXSW in March and are asking for a little help with funds to get there. If you are flush with cash and dig great crashing guitar dreampop then head over to their site and send them a little donation. Every little bit helps and you can pick up a nice parting gift as well.
Finnish band Black Twig have just released their first album Paper Trees on Soliti. It’s a tour de force through the back pages of big sounding guitar rock, conjuring the brilliant ringing guitars of early House of Love, the overwhelming power of the Catherine Wheel and the intensity of Bailter Space.
Singer Aki Pohjankyro has a voice that sounds slightly whispered, but still strong which gives the songs an unearthly quality which really isn’t necesarry since the twin guitar attack already lifts them pretty high aloft. Lake Song is good enough to stand head and shoulders with the likes of Black Metallic and Swervedriver’s Duel. The motorik beat of Kouvlola keeps you on your toes and the straight ahead pop of Death Scene and All Your Time makes the album stick to your ribs.
I haven’t heard a band with a sound like this in quite a while. Some might call it shoegaze, but they’d be wrong. This is an album of guitar powered rock that doesn’t fit into any category. Like the Chameleons, House of Love and Catherine Wheel before them, they stand on their own, not really sounding like any of their contemporaries.