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.
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.
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
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
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.
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