City Paper is not for tourists
Shoegazing ain’t dead, of course. The distorted pop sound of a decade and a half ago has merely been hiding out in the underground, where it’s combined with the gauzier elements of the goth, metal, and IDM scenes to ensure that it never again becomes semipopular. Yeah, there have always been a few saddoes who refuse to admit that My Bloody Valentine isn’t going to make a follow-up to Loveless, but the rest of us
Though they aren’t exactly saddoes, the hotly hyped Delays aren’t exactly like the rest of us, either. Made up of four lanky British lads with high voices and a special knack for running vaguely ’60s-sounding songs through the ol’ MBV-O-Meter, the Southampton-based outfit almost makes you want to dust off your old Lush records and marvel at what might have been had Nirvana not cold-cocked ethereal alt-rock back in the day.
This will be especially good news in former ’gazer epicenter Washington, where you can go into pretty much any bar confident that someone inside has listened to the first Moose album within the past week. Elsewhere, Delays—along with the likes of Sigur Rós, Oceansize, and other assorted “nü-gazers”—will probably be regarded as part of the broad movement of guys with guitar pedals ever so politely threatening, if not to restore shoegazing to its early-’90s glory, then at least to ensconce it in semi-semipopularity.
Actually, Delays, despite their name, are less about pedals than vocals, especially the vocals of guitarist and songsmith Greg Gilbert. On the evidence of his band’s debut album, Faded Seaside Glamour, some people have called his voice falsetto—which isn’t strictly true. Prince sings in a falsetto. The dude from the Darkness sings in a falsetto. Gilbert sings high. There’s no hollowness or straining in his dulcet near-soprano; he is truly a freak of gender identity and should be saluted as such.
Keyboardist Aaron Gilbert is Delays’ other vocalist, and he does sing in falsetto—which lets him hit notes farther up there than even his bro, whose breathy heights he likes to circle with glass-shattering harmonies. Together, they whoop it up like Cocteau Twins on spring break. Plus, I’m fairly certain they named their album after an Animals That Swim song, which is a total shoegazer move.
Southampton is in fact close to the water, and Delays seem qualified to evoke the feel of a resort town in winter. Album-opener “Wanderlust” even begins with steel drums, perhaps to suggest summers past, and the few lyrics I can understand are when Greg Gilbert shouts, “You don’t listen” at someone who doesn’t seem to see the same strange beauty in bleached storefronts and boarded-up windows that he does.
For most of Glamour, Delays stick to the classic ’gazer template: drums that sound as if they had been recorded at the bottom of a well, zaftig bass lines, a few keyboard sounds for good measure, and, of course, guitars galore. Gilbert is a flexible, intuitive guitarist, and his textural choices sit against his lacy vocals nicely. It’s all very pleasant, with the occasional power chord adding a sharp little edge to the filigree.
But arrangement isn’t everything, of course, and Greg Gilbert simply isn’t as compelling a songwriter as he is a singer. And though his vocals are impressive, they’re often buried under so much reverb you can’t tell what he’s saying. Yeah, I know that’s how shoegazer music is supposed to sound—half the time, MBV’s lyrics fought to be heard at all—but the problem is that these lyrics deserve to be buried. Here’s a sample, from “Nearer Than Heaven”: “I get the feeling I get nearer by the day/I’ve seen the people go forever descending/It’s when we’re all inside/That summer’s on the way/Yeah, yeah.”
It felt silly even to type that. And sillier to type this, from “Long Time Coming”: “Tore it up and walked away/Why’d you wanna go do that for?/Threw your Lego in the lake/ Why’d you wanna go do that for?” Or this, from “Stay Where You Are”: “Tell everybody I’m leaving/Not treading water today/I left the spoons in the back room/It’s better ending this way.” Elsewhere, Gilbert talks about such common ’gazer tropes as flowers, breathing, and elusive girls with almost clockwork regularity.
That’s the main problem with Delays: The band looks great and sounds promising, but under the surface there’s nothing you haven’t heard done better any number of times before. It’s actually remarkable that the Gilberts and their bandmates have gone as far as they have, even having a Top 20 hit in their homeland. After all, indulging in the private passions of outdated subcultures is usually the domain of folks who are destined for something other than greatness—perhaps reorganizing their collections or, y’know, just staying inside for a while.
I suspect that the poisonous effect of superfandom isn’t actually what Gilbert is singing about on “Bedroom Scene,” but just for a second, let’s pretend: “Lose yourself in love/But leaves me nothing to know/Just a stationary role/In your bedroom scene.” For once, the man makes a lot of sense.
Like their countrymen, the members of Seachange are fond of sonic miasma. Unlike Delays, however, this bunch of Nottinghamites boasts not just a ladylike singer, but an actual lady. Of course, Jo Woodnutt doesn’t sing, opting instead to play some of the most rocking violin since Revenge of the Nerds—and yes, I’m counting Yellowcard. More important, Seachange writes some pretty good tunes—and had the good taste to name its first album after a great Fall song.
Lay of the Land’s opener, “Anglokana,” is a meditation on how a pointless murder causes both a town and the kids growing up in it to shed some innocence. The tale itself is classic teen lore: A guy and a girl get drunk, and go out to the woods to have sex, and then, for some reason that remains unexplained, he kills her and himself. Years later, Seachange vocalist Dan Eastop is stymied by the reluctance of a modern-day young lady to go up to those same woods: “The whole free-love thing only works with some people,” he announces.
Fittingly, Seachange plays angular, dynamic rock that sounds kind of like that glorious period when the Wedding Present worked with Steve Albini. The band’s guitars are crisply distorted, and often Woodnutt’s violin is the only discernible source of melody. The approach makes numbers such as “SF” and “Forty Nights” enjoyable fuzzfests—and the former also happens to be a vaguely socialist rant in which Eastop sings of having a bomb in his heart, vainly calls for the workers to join him, and reckons that the only reason the dinosaurs are extinct is because “they never had a space program.”
Clearly, the kid’s got potential—even if it’s only for ending up one of Mark E. Smith’s many drinking buddies. But I get the feeling that would suit Eastop just fine. Probably wouldn’t hurt the music a bit, either—which is why, unlike, say, Chapterhouse or Delays, Seachange stands to end up more than a historical footnote. Sure, the group throws up a mighty fog, but it doesn’t sound lost in the least.CP