Shoegaze

All posts tagged Shoegaze

Mercury's Antennae. Photo Courtesy of the band's Official Facebook page.

                                      Mercury’s Antennae. Photo Courtesy of the band’s Official Facebook page.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

The mid-2010’s have proven to be a very exciting period for Alternative and Indie music. With the Post Punk Revival and Shoegaze Revival in full effect, the lasting influence of these illustrious sub-genres has broken down musical barriers never-before imagined (i.e. the fusing of metal and shoegaze with blackgaze and heavaygaze) and have continued to reach new fans through innovative reinventions that have allowed these sounds to flourish nearly two or three decades after their inception.

That being said, some of the most celebrated musicians of the Shoegaze/Dreampop scene have came together as Mercury’s Antennae!

Originally formed back in 2010, the Projekt Records act consisting of vocalist Dru Delmonico formerly of This Ascension), bassist Cindy  Coulter and multi-instrumentalist Erick Scheid, pull together a healthy combination of whirling Shoegaze guitar, Dreampop atmospheres and a unique ethereal-Goth sensibility reminiscent of This Ascension and classic Projekt acts. After creating a buzz across the West Coast and through the now-thriving Shoegaze Revival scene, Mercury’s Antennae are now ready to hit the studio to lay down their third release.

However, with such a lush and complex sound, it’s almost unfair just to slap any simple label on Mercury’s Antennae, as they really strive to push the boundaries of the music they love. The members weighed in on how they hear these sounds and formulate them into their own unique piece of art.

“I would describe our music as the soundtrack for two lovers in the middle of the ocean,” said Scheid. “Esoteric Shoegaze-Ritual Darkwave and Ambient Electronica with elements of noise, folk and Dreampop. For me personally I always have been drawn to create music that had a sense of space, atmosphere and shifting moods. A sound that is vulnerable, otherworldly, emotional and hopefully thought provoking. It sounds possibly cliché and overused in the adjectives but I guess that’s the truth. And like all artists, what has led me to create music is LIFE itself and all that it is or isn’t… the tension between the light and the dark.”

Delmonico added that the moodiness of bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode helped shape her creative angle.

“Coming of age in Southern California we had two modern rock stations that were pretty big at the time. While I wasn’t exposed to anything super obscure, I started to follow Depeche Mode, The Cure, Ultravox, a lot of so-called New Wave. Then I moved to a small town on the Central Coast where I could only pick up Classic Rock and Top 40. While I liked some of this too I missed the alternative ‘more weird’ stuff and a friend in L.A. would send me mix tapes to keep me up-to-date. I loved the moodiness, the artistic expression, the somewhat hidden aspect, although DM and The Cure both went on to be so big they sold out huge stadiums,” said Delmonico.

Earlier this year, the band released Beneath the Serene, their most sonically developed record to date. The record Beneath the Sereneis full of lush soundscapes and dreamy/ambient textures, yet also includes the somewhat traditional sound structures of popular music.

Beneath The Serene was an exploration into the questioning of all things of Beauty and realizing that Beauty and whatever that definition is, can be illusive and even toxic. Also I was questioning what connection/isolation means to me,” said Scheid.

“Most of the tracks were somewhat in tact by the time I was asked to join the band permanently, although they were largely in demo format,” continued Coulter. “I think as an artist there’s nothing more thrilling than having a blank canvas with which to work to create something that speaks to you and that you want to put out into the world. Erick and Dru have certainly provided me that in inviting me to collaborate with them. Erick has always kind of had the approach of ‘just do what you do.’ I think our arrangement works quite well and am excited at the prospect of making more music together.”

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Despite having an experimental edge sonically, Mercury’s Antennae, and Delmonico in particular, are not afraid to shy away from a good hook to help take a song to a whole new level.

“With Mercury’s Antennae, I feel like drawing out phrases more, repeating more. I think it’s okay to have those ‘pop’ elements, some of the music is genuinely hooky and catchy and it’s great. There have been a couple times with our music though that I have been stumped as to what to do. It’s forced me to sing in new ways and styles that aren’t in my normal comfort zone, which is good for an artist. That’s what happened with the title track Beneath the Serene–nothing was working at all, and it was the last track I had to put vocals to. I’d totally procrastinated ’til the last minute. But somehow something came together and while different  for me vocally, it’s really special,” said Delmonico.

In recent years, bands like True Widow, Nothing and A Place to Bury Strangers have helped bring Shoegaze back onto the scene in a big way. And since 2013, the reformation of genre pioneers like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Lush have only furthered the excitement among fans. However, Mercury’s Antennae, though akin to these movements, are forging their own path regardless of what’s in fashion. Still, they’re happy to see it where it is and believe that there is a real demand for it.

“I don’t feel like Shoegaze ever really went away. But, I think part of it is that the folks that were really into that music back in the day, are a little older now (present company included ;))  and saw those bands when they were popular the first time around. Certainly there’s a desire there now that these bands are reuniting. Couple that with some of the newer Shoegaze bands like The Joy Formidable, Seasurfer, Ringo Deathstarr, Tamaryn, Beach House, and the like, and it’s not too much of a surprise that Shoegaze is getting some new interest from old school fans a and making new ones in the process as well. It’s an exciting time,” said Coulter.

“We are longing to hear music with depth and also with a sense of spaciousness and atmosphere. With all that is changing in this world we desire to hear/witness music that is real and honest again, even if it sounds like clouds in the wind, we all want to be romanticized. At least I do… sonically that is. Shoegaze represents that in lots of ways. Also I think ‘Shoegaze’ music fuses the feminine and masculine in subtle ways and music lovers out there want to embrace that,” added Scheid.

Mercury's Antennae performing live in 2015. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Mercury’s Antennae performing live in 2015.    Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Mercury’s Antennae are part of the unique roster of artists featured on Projekt Records. Owned and operated by Sam Rosenthal, the mastermind behind not only the successful label but the iconic group, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Delmonico recalled working with Rosenthal going all the back to her days with This Ascension.

“I’ve know Sam for years through This Ascension. Projekt was one of the first distributors we worked with and that was hugely beneficial relationship for us; this was before most people were on the web, which is hard to imagine now. Later, Projekt was also our label when he re-issued TA’s catalog after Tess closed. Sam was the first person I thought of when Erick and I started creating our first album. Happily for us he found it interesting, so released it as well as our latest. He’s been super supportive,” said Delmonico.

Despite having the backing from a great label, the music industry is still in a state of limbo, as distributors are often unsure the of the best platform to market their artists. Often times, it’s up to the artists to utilize unique ways to reach fans such as social media and crowd funding, depending on their individual goals.

Delmonico said that despite this disorder, there are more befits to music fans now than ever before.

“I think the changes in the industry have been a dual-edged sword. There is this wonderful openness and access to music now that is unprecedented. Just this morning I discovered John Fryer (Depeche Mode, Love and Rockets, This Mortal Coil, Nine Inch Nails) has an ongoing music project with various vocalists and musicians called Black Needle Noise, and I can listen to them all instantly on Bandcamp. It’s a great time for music fans,” she said.

She also explained that success in the industry can be achieved through hard work and smart/innovative decisions.

“As creators, bands like us were doing better in terms of financial success in the 90s. I think more artists are going to need to take regular and freelance jobs to continue to make music. There is this expectation now that people shouldn’t t have to buy music. Even good friends of mine think this. I’ve known bands signed to major labels that have trouble keeping their bills paid, but also independent artists who can make their living with a successful blend of touring, merchandising, creativity and some good fortune. It’s very hard though,” finished Delmonico.

Mercury’s Antennae just wrap up a slew of dates on the West Coast and are set to work on new material for their next release. Be sure to check back to their official Facebook page for all updates and live dates.

David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.

David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

Experimental rock evolved into Psychedelic rock with artists like Syd Barrett in the 1960’s. After his departure from Pink Floyd, new lead guitarist, David Gilmore, helped solidify another subgenre offshoot and the 70’s brought progressive and psychedelic rock outfits such as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind to the foreground as they evolved into Space Rock. Space Rock which was characterized by increased instrumental passages (especially on keyboard/synthesizers) inspired by the science fiction themes and soundtrack music of the day and/or astronomy.

Delia Derbyshire, famous for her composition of the Doctor Who theme song was also a premier influential composer of other music within experimental genres in addition to being a great captivator and sonic painter of the beyond for incidental music in TV and film. Brian Eno, known as both a composer and a rock songwriter, was a major player as well. As for pop/rock songwriters they began to follow suit and added elements, but it is perhaps the lyrical themes that became the most influential, which became evident in other subgenres of rock such as folk rock (Donovan, Cat Stevens) and glam rock (T. Rex and David Bowie, whom worked with Eno.) In fact, the enchantment of space travel and the science fiction that British kids were being raised on became paramount in David Bowie’s most successful records, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Space Oddity. And as Pink Floyd declared themselves Space rock in the70’s, Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme could be often heard in some variation on the synth parts in performances of  “One of These Days,” from 1971’s Meddle.

More and more pop and mainstream radio rock was also being affected. Even before Gilmour made the decidedly Space rock turn with Pink Floyd after Barrett’s Psychedelic/early Space rock departure, the Beatles, the Stones, and the Steve Miller Band wrote songs with similar themes. Indeed, it became a cultural phenomenon more than a musical one. Perhaps the race for space during this period in history influenced this tendency.

Just like with any political movement in history, cultural and artistic history is often the victim of bandwagon mentalities and the genre suffered a marked decline in popularity until the 90’s with the exception of being cleverly evolved and disguised within Progressive rock (Rush, Yes) and Art rock.

Space rock began as an English phenomenon, and as such it saw its eventual revival in the late 80’s in British alternative rock bands which others could not describe the general sound as spacey or ambient. British bands such as Radiohead, Amplifier, Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Kasabian, and Mugstar held these elements dearly into the 90’s and American bands went onto as well.  Autolux, Hopesfall, Lumerians,The Secret Machines, The Mars Volta, The Boxing Lesson, Cloudland Canyon, Angels & Airwaves, Tool and Zombi are prime examples, though they all fall into some varying sub-subgenres which begin to split hairs, they are all “spacey” bands.

In the 90’s the term resurfaced to describe the many bands that were labeled as

alternative rock bands but that (specifically) British and American audiences craved a bit more specifics in explanations to others. Shoegazing, stoner rock/metal (sludge) and dream/noise pop acts often saw greater success when sometimes using the words “space” and/or “spacey” to describe their sounds so fans could know what other bands they might enjoy. Kyuss, Slowdive, The Verve, My Bloody Valentine, Flying Saucer Attack, Loop, Ride, Shiner (band),The Flaming Lips, Failure,Year of the Rabbit, Cave In, Sun Dial, Hum, Orange Goblin, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and Mercury Rev employed the hallmark layers of sonic walls, textures and of course experimentation and many classified themselves as space rock or offshoot, dream pop before the term shoegaze and its sub-subgenres were even a thought.

Nowadays, although it is a more reputable descriptive term for many acts, the term only seems to be used by bands that decidedly use it. Other common descriptions indeed make it obvious that there is a blur in the experimental subgenres. The Flowers of Hell, Comets on Fire,and Flotation Toy Warningall of which who employ the old elements of 60’s/70’s Space rock in their own original ways. Seattle band, Lazer Kitty has a wonderful sound and a performance video of theirs can be seen below as well as a few other tracks that chronicle pivotal points in space rock.

Pink Floyd – One of These Days

Pink Floyd – Careful with that Ax, Eugene

Gong – Flying Teapot

Gong – I Never Glid Before

Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

The Verve – Slide Away

Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

Lazer Kitty – Hyperion

In addition to this list other Picks of the Week that were played on air for this subgenre can be found on the Raw Alternative’s Facebook Page.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

From the trailblazers of experimentation arose a movement inspired by those sonic strides as well as art, fashion and mind-expansion known as Psychedelic. The sound was comprised of music (most often rock) which imbued the aforementioned with new found recording technology, effects pedals for the predominant instruments, guitar and bass with Eastern scale structures, was first noticed by most of the Western world in the mid 60’s through the Beatles in England and in the Byrds in the U.S.

From there, pop, folk and the blues, which were then primarily simple melodic tunes, became more experimental. Whole new projects/bands devoted to this sort of direction arose, especially in California. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and led by the infamous Jim Morrison, the Doors.

Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Ray Manzerek, keyboardist of the Doors were true masters of their instruments and led their respective bands to play and sing against some scale and chord structures that most pop fans have never heard; and it worked. The music was intriguing but still catchy. Again, as any movement seems to rely on, Jazz was employed and drawn from as was blues for the simple yet gritty melodies many of the frontmen came up with. It is not to say, that vocalists, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane did not have their head wrapped around what was going on instrumentally. In fact, Slick was one of the first songwriters to grab everyone’s attention with her famous unlipsyched performance of “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers show in ’67 and a host of catchy yet thought provoking songs on their most famous record, Surrealistic Pillow.

While anything by Airplane, the Grateful Dead or the Doors from the 60’s would be a great example of some of the best/best known in this sub-genre, it is important to acknowledge just how DEEP it got by the 1970’s. Instrumentally, tonally, lyrically and melodically. Things on the whole were getting heavy. More to the point, Psychedelic music (especially blues based) has had the most effect on what became Heavy Metal.

Many know the legend of Hendrix’s playing being described as, “Heavy metal falling from the sky…” and his death in the 70’s may have caused some artists/bands inspired by him to quit or follow down the same path as him. But in the 70’s, even though America had hits such as “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” England was booming with the heavy side of Psychedelic with Cream and the hard hitting, Blues-rooted Led Zeppelin and eventually Black Sabbath, who was known first as a Psych-Blues band called Earth.

American Psych Rock (for the most) part maintained their takes on the movement and led more than ever into Space Rock (perhaps due to propaganda of the times) as the Jefferson Airplane-turned-to-Jefferson Starship teased. However, little known bands that were following suit in other countries made enormous strides of their own and led to the Progressive Rock that would become famous as a huge European movement.

Did Psych Rock crash like a Led Zeppelin? It is through Pysch Rock and the ever revolving door of Brit Pop Revivals that led to the Madchester movement in the North of England in the 80’s and 90’s. Even more hair splitting took place with sub-genres which resulted from the poppy melodic dance elements New Order and the Happy Mondays employed (Beatles, Byrds) to the Psych inspired guitars of the Stone Roses, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr’s playing coupled with the group’s intelligent and outspoken front man, Morrissey (Airplane, Doors) and ultimately back to the heavy darkness of Joy Division (Sabbath).

Those elements’ thought provoking depths inspired Punk and Glam in the 70’s such as Loud Reed’s solo career and part of the New York Dolls’ early sound. Goth and Sludge acts in the 80’s and 90’s felt the influence too, most notably withe acts like Sleep, Kyuss and Tool. Kyuss’ psychedelic riffs on Blues for the Red Sun in 1992 and Tool’s psychedelic-prog masterpiece, Aenima in 1997. Shoegaze acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Brit Rock groups Oasis and Blur also hinted at the influence of 60’s Psychedelic rock. Finally, by the 00’s, sludge acts like Melvins and Isis, along with the rise of EDM and the rave scene, all flash a heavy influence of Psychedelic music with spacey reverb and hypnotic sounds.

And this shouldn’t have as much to do with it as all that but people in every decade since have taken drugs.

The Doors, live extended version of “Light my Fire” in ’68

Cream, live and very heavy in ’68

Little known early heavy 70’s psych trio, The Flow

New Order, very out there deep cut from 1983’s “Power, Corruption and Lies”

The Stone Roses, their far out Madchester single, 89’s ‘I Wanna be Adored”

Lastly, I leave you with a dramatization of making of Joy Divisions’ “She’s Lost Control,” as depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People, which spans the history of the Madchester movement.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

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Artist: Have A Nice Life

Album: The Unnatural World

Release Date: 1/20/14

Rating: 9/10

Every so often, you hear a band or artist that catches your ear in a way unlike any other before it. Connecticut-based noise/doomgaze duo Have A Nice Life have a knack for an effect. For some, it’s not even music in a traditional sense, but just brash noise. Yet for others including the band’s devoted cult following, it’s literally out of this world.

Have A Nice Life first gave the world a heavy dose of noise pollution with their now iconic 2008 debut, Deathconsciousness. Released via Flenser Records, the duo, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, their debut resonated among fans of various underground sub-genres including shoegaze, noise rock and drone. Eventually being dubbed doomgaze, Have A Nice Life’s unique brand of droning ethereal atmospherics and semi-industrial doom-inspired fuzzed-out instrumentation helped spark interest of a shoegaze revival across the underground.

Although Have A Nice Life may not be cut out for the casual listener, their tendency for soaring atmospheric beauty has struck a chord with a growing audience. This is even more prevalent on the duo’s new highly-anticipated LP, The Unnatural World, their first release in four years.

Leading off The Unnatural World is the ethereal “GuggenheimWax Museum,” setting the tone of Have A Nice Life’s sound. From there, the more biting post-punk “Defenstration Song” and “Brutal Society” take effect, leading into heavier and more brooding territory. Hints of Joy Divison can be heard on “Music Will Untune the Sky,” while the band’s Black Metal influences take hold for the welling “Cropsey” and “Unholy Life.” The album concludes with the noise-ridden tracks “Dan and Tim, Reunited By Fate” and “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch.”

The Unnatural World seems to pick up right were their 2010 EP, Time of Land left off. Their signature sound is firmly in place, but trails deeper down the path the band set onto. Standout tracks like “Defenstration Song” and “Dan and Time, Reunited By Fate” really capture the band’s vibe. Heavy but not metal, loud and ethereal but not complete noise rock, Have A Nice Life have carved a unique niche that The Unnatural World is firmly cemented into.

All in all, The Unnatural World is the perfect album for a wintery night spend home alone or a nightly walk through an old electric forest. The atmospheres are aplenty. It also serves as a good introduction to new fans, craving something heavy and abrasive, but beyond your average “heavy” guitar-driven music. For what it is, The Unnatural World is a practically perfect record, urging the listener to go back into the band’s short but sweet catalogue.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

The early development of the Shoegaze genre lies somewhere in the post-punk haze of the 80’s. Gothic/Ethereal artists such as Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain began to fuse elements from uncategorized and/or “art” rock acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur, Jr. The name itself evolved because artists, namely guitarists, where using a lot of effects on their guitars through the use of various pedals and stomp boxes and they seemed to be “gazing at their shoes” during performances.

Though many of the genre’s predecessors often used a lot of layering or effects in their music via multi-tracking, in live situations they were more sparse. Live performances from Shoegaze artists differed in many instances because they rarely changed the arrangement or the effects, although the layering was done in a more ethereal or blurred out way to begin with on the records, it was a bit easier to cope with live. Moreover, live versions were even more exaggerated because of this. Shoegaze greats Ride and Catherine Wheel are prime examples of this practice.

By the 90’s, a sister sub-genre called Dreampop surfaced with artists such as Slowdive and Lush. Their music featured the noise of Shoegaze, however was a bit more poppy and melodic. Even Brit Rock/Pop bands like The Stone Roses also experimented with many of the budding trademark sounds with their single, “I Wanna Be Adored” in 1991.

However, 1991 was the year that the first significant stride was made in Shoegaze. One of the first acts to be described as both Dreampop and Shoegaze, the influential My Bloody Valentine, combined airy female vocals and guitarist Kevin Shields’ distinctive sonic wall of guitar noise. In fact, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless had a great impact on many guitarists in the 90’s, not just in Shoegaze, but Alternative in its broadest sense. Billy Corgan and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins are notable followers.

The torch was in a way, carried most authentically to British band, Catherine Wheel. Shoegaze became full circle and the trademark sound was “nailed” by them in 1993 with their second record, Chrome. This is arguably the cornerstone record in this genre with its dreamy and catchy melodies sung with Gilmour-esque soothing ethereal vocals and sonically lush (but often still aggressive) guitars and concepts which vary throughout. This record is also one of the most unsung and overlooked recordings of the 90’s in general due to the quick shift in focus to the rise (and fall) of Grunge.

However, not all was forgotten. Catherine Wheel went on throughout the 00’s, inspiring new fans of other genres to not only go back and listen to their old records, but discover My Bloody Valentine’s, Loveless too, and draw from a perhaps small collection of Shoegaze records. Even more so, the quality that spanned Smashing Pumpkins’ range of influences, as well as successful English Alternative/Rock acts such as Radiohead and Pulp, had therefore inspired yet another Brit Rock Revival.

In the Shoegaze lineage, little known but amazing American artists such as Starflyer 59 (often referred to as a Space Rock band) and Hum plugged away through the 90’s. In more recent years, the independent two-piece act, Have a Nice Life, emerged with one of the greatest Shoegaze mixtures ever, especially on their debut album, Deathconsciousness. The presence of Dreampop-y melodic hooks, spacey textures and even darker undertones, hark back to the beginning of this genre’s early Post-Punk/Goth influences. (Refer to some of the artists mentioned in last month’s Gothic Rock article).

In addition to the previous Picks of the Week, which I used introduce this origins of this genre I now include for your enjoyment:

Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic. From recommended album, Ferment. 1993

Starflyer 59 – Hazel Would. from recommended album, Silver. 1994

Hum – Stars. From recommended album, You’d Prefer an Astronaut. 1995

Have a Nice Life – Bloodhail. From recommended album, Deathconsciousness. 2008