Friday, March 31, 2017

Catching up with Saint Marie Records

By now, Saint Marie Records has etched it's name as the foremost purveyor of all things dream-pop and nu-gaze into the hearts, minds, and tremolo bars of those who can and will never get enough of those genres.  Pumping out one mesmerizing musical missive after another, the Fort Worth, TX imprint has performed yeoman's work in exploring and fostering up and comers like Whimsical and Seasurfer, to reissuing long-unheralded curios from decades past.  Here's a snapshot of where things stand today with their latest, and quite possibly greatest. 

As blown away as I was with Secret Shine's par excellence debut, Untouched from 1993, it did seem to get lost in the woozy, dream-pop ether of that genre's abundant era.  Their recent aughts reunion endeavors like 2008's All of the Stars heralded the return of a comforting musical presence, but I couldn't have envisioned the depth and scope of their newest salvo, There is Only Now.  Slotting in at a nexus between early Slowdive and Nowhere-era Ride, TION is chockablock with billowy, deep sonic caverns that allure and envelope in sublime fashion, with themes that negotiate a merger between the euphoric and sobering.  This record is above and beyond your proverbial "return to form," instead upping Secret Shine's ante into a new stratosphere.

With a name like Whimsical it has to be twee...right?  Not so fast.  The Indiana-based band in question are not as cutsey as their moniker applies, yet their melodically ravaged songs are eKrissy Vanderwoude, who steers her quintet to a less lofty, albeit no less intoxicating plateau. The driving and deliriously fetching "Surreal" and "Thought of You" demonstrate their modus operandi best.  The nutshell backstory of Sleep to Dream, the Whim's second album. is that most of it was tracked in 2004, but was shelved until 2016 when it was dusted off and finally completed.  Who ever thought a decade-plus of procrastination could yield such stunning results?
ntirely approachable.  If you ever wondered what the Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Fraser might have amounted top without all those fluttery vocal trills, you may have found your answer in Whimsical's

Seasurfer's Heasdlights ep from a couple of years back was no fluke.  This co-ed German conglomerate lay it on thick, pouring everything they have into the dense-as-all-get-out Under the Milkway...Who Cares.  At nearly every turn the band emits a galvanizing surge of tremolo, muscle, and near-disorienting noise, a la My Bloody Valentine and Curve circa Doppelganger.  From song to song there isn't much variance in Seasurfer's overarching modus operandi, but a strong semblance of amped-out haze and mystique nonetheless commands your undivided attention.  A phenomenal album for the car I might add.

I recall being enlightened to The Emerald Down's Scream the Sound album when it was originally unleashed in the early 'oos.  It was a time when "the scene that celebrates itself" wasn't exactly celebrated so wholeheartedly anymore.  Kinda like when hair metal went out of vogue in 1991 I suppose, but I digress.  But by sheer osmosis or otherwise, the Rebecca Bayse-helmed quartet had the benefit of over ten-plus years of bi-coastal dream pop/shoegazer rock to immerse themselves in - and ultimately the acumen to redeploy that wherewithal into something as special as the heroes that inspired them.  Prodigies of Slowdive, Cocteaus and Pale Saints, Emerald Down weren't out-and-out revisionists nor carbon copies, rather their ethereal atmospheric aplomb was the quintessence of what so many of their inspirational antecedents were hinting at before they prematurely dissolved.  Scream... is blissed out head music for the eons, and even much of the teaming new crop of hopefuls cant touch on what Emerald seized upon here. While I've merely broached the topic of the reissue of Scream the Sound, TED has a voluminous backstory to indulge you with, and a detailed biography can be located here.

Orange are another bygone act the bulk of us have yet to make our acquaintance with.  Better late than never given the impeccable ear candy this San Francisco treat had to offer by way of their lone LP from 1994.  Orange focal point Sonya Waters was a London transplant who possessed a delicate set of lungs that incorporated the best parts of the Sundays' Harriet Wheeler and The Cranes' Alison Shaw.  That approximation alone would have command of my ears even is she was singing the proverbial phone book, but far better, Shaw parlayed her talents against a Lush-ious backdrop, yielding results that struck me as uncannily similar to Emma, Miki and the boys.  Coincidence or not as the aforementioned goes, Orange's Complete Recordings is a convenient one-stop shopping excursion, featuring some jaw-droppingly gorgeous songs like "Feijoa," "Heather" and their unique spin on the Pixies "Gigantic."  My only complaint here is a thorough lack of liner notes (not even so much as a simple band roster or copyright date) in an otherwise visually captivating album sleeve. 

Like the other bands profiled in this feature, February may have purloined a thing or two from shoegaze visionaries of yore, but this defunct, co-ed Minneapolis crew weren't solely tethered to that premise.  February weren't burdened with any overarching Achilles's heel, so to speak, rather their lack of focus is pervasive on their locally released 1997 album, Tomorrow is Today.  Given a new lease on life two decades later, Tomorrow certainly strikes me as a product of it's time, swinging on the coattails of the fading Madchester movement on the danceable "Caught" and whatnot.  No, that one doesn't cut it for me, but I'll be damned if the heady, gazey strains of "Riproar" doesn't get the juices flowing, at least for a couple minutes anyway.

All records discussed herein can be obtained straight from Saint Marie and the usual digital outlets Amazon and iTunes. 


Elizabeth Klisiewicz said...

Great write-up! If anyone is interested in an in-depth piece on Rebecca Basye from TED, I did an interview with her here:

Pernt said...

Holy cow, how is it possible that I never heard of Orange before now? I previewed three seconds of one song, and found myself furiously clicking the "Buy" button. I can't wait to listen to this as I'm driving through town later today. Thanks a ton for the recommendations! I also plunked down for the Secret Shine album, too... love those guys from their Sarah Days!

I discovered "twee pop" and the whole Sarah Records genre in early 1999 when I ordered the Field Mice compilation "Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way?" based off the description/review. It grabbed me by the earholes instantly, and I've been hooked ever since.

If I could go back in time and tell the me of the mid-90s that one day my favorite musical styles would be shoegaze and twee pop, past-me would rip the Queen tour shirt off his torso and whip future-me until I apologized. (And then past-me would steal this "iPhone" gadget future-me was carrying and use that to secure a few patents and copyrights that would set past-and-future-me up for life.)

spavid said...

I'll check that out Elizabeth. Didn't realize you were associated with The Sun Hits.

I know what you mean Pernt. Back in the early nineties I wouldn't go near a band that wasn't decked out in flannel or didn't have a minimum of five distortion pedals at their feet. Things can change dramatically. As for Orange, that band was a FIND. Like I said, better late than never.

Jess Manuel said...

I hope Saint Marie Records would reissue albums from Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, The Nightblooms, The Melody Unit, and Mahogany.

shane m said...

Unfortunately the Orange "Complete" Discography, doesn't contain their complete discography. Four songs are missing, two have been re-named, but one of them is finally available on CD., and one "new" song.

Missing is their debut 7" single featuring "Pearl" & "Grey Rooms", "Sweet Briar" from the 'Splashed With Many A Speck' Compilation, and "Fallen Buildings" From the 'Doctor Death's Volume V - Hearts Lust In Limbo' Compilation.

The re-named tracks are "Dose Of Heaven" previously called "Painted Tongue" from 'Splashed With Many A Speck' Compilation, and "Figures & Landscapes" previously called "Chimes" which was previously only available on one of their "Demo" tapes.

"Moon Club" is the only "new" track.

Here's their debut 7" 'Present An Auto De Fé'


Pernt said...

Shane, thanks for the extra tracks. I'm so glad I discovered this band.


shane m said...

Crap. I forgot to include the other missing two songs. Here they are. Sorry.

shane m said...

Sure thing, Pernt! Always good to help out. Kind of surprised that you use to live in the Bay Area and didn't hear about them (I creeped a little on your profile) I hope this new compilation of theirs gets to you quickly!

spavid said...

Just seeing this now. Thanks Shane!

Pernt said...

I just had to come back and leave another comment... I can't tell you how WONDERFUL the Orange retrospective is. I didn't realize how much I needed this music in my life. It's filling up a small corner of my insides that has felt painfully empty for a while now. Thanks for being such a tireless connoisseur of both dream pop and shoegaze. If you continue to bring music like this to me... I just mind find myself being happy all the time...


dgen said...

Man, I remember seeing Feburary all the time in Minneapolis. They used to play it seemed monthly. At the time I didn't realize the nod to dream pop they had but wow they were great live.