Monday, October 31, 2011

I Break Horses, "Hearts"; The Raveonettes, "Raven In the Grave"

More often than not, shoegaze bands seem to emerge fully formed, at least compared to bands in other genres. For every rock band that releases an iconic, generation-defining debut (e.g. Sex Pistols, Strokes, Smiths), there are a million other bands who need a few albums to find their proper footing. But shoegaze bands have a knack for appearing perfectly crystallized right out of the gate.

In the first wave of shoegaze you had bands like Ride and Slowdive who were never able to top their pre-debut album singles according to some of their most diehard fans. I'm still blown away by the quality of tracks like "Morningrise" and "Avalyn", and how such a young band (in terms of how long they'd been together as a band and in terms of the ages of the individual members) were able to master their craft so quickly and definitively. It took a few years, but eventually both bands started to stray from their initial template and to search for a post-shoegaze identity. The results were more mixed, which is usually the case when you're dealing with a band that's looking to redefine itself.

I'm not sure why shoegaze bands are such fast learners, but I suspect it's because their list of influences is fairly short -- in other words, all shoegazers are stealing ideas from the same few bands. It's redundant to even list those influences because everyone knows who they are, and the bands on the shortlist haven't changed much in the past twenty years. Rock bands have immeasurably more influences to chose from, so it takes longer for a young band to find a combination that works for them.

I Break Horses fit the pattern of shoegaze bands that emerge from nothing and arrive fully formed with a great debut album. After listening to "Hearts" just once, you know exactly what they're all about, which is the nice thing (or most boring aspect, depending on how much you like this kind of music) about bands like these -- when everyone takes cues from the same small set of influences, you don't need to waste time trying to dissect hidden levels of detail or to work out what confluence of styles went into the making of album. After the first listen, you've pretty much heard it all, how much replayability the album will have is a matter of personal taste.

I Break Horses combine electronica and shoegaze, but not in an annoying twee way like most other bands who do similar things, they channel a bit of the warped sampledelic abrasiveness of Disco Inferno, they love "Run Into Flowers"-era M83 but bring the rock much better than M83 did back then, and they wrote a song called "I Kill Your Love, Baby!" (with barely any lyrics besides those in the title). If any of this sounds a little bit enticing then you can safely assume that you'll like this album.


Once upon a time, The Raveonettes emerged fully fomed with their debut album, "Chain Gang of Love". I've been a fan of them for a while but I bought and heard this album for the first time only a few weeks ago. Just the album title and the fact that it was produced by Richard Gottehrer tells you most of what you need to know. It's thirteen blistering tracks of exhilarating motorcycle feedback doo wop JAMC-drenched fun. They continued in the same vein on their sophomore album, on their third album they cranked the feedback as high as it would go and succeeded in out-Psychocandying "Psychocandy, but by their fourth album they were searching for something new and didn't know where to look for it (I almost never feel the need to hear this album).

Now, on their fifth album "Raven In the Grave", they're still in the midst of an identity crisis but the results have gotten a lot better. It's their mellowest album to date, leaning more toward the doo-wop side of the classic rock and roll they love so much. The most interesting tracks are the loop-based "Recharge and Revolt" and "Forget That You're Young", which is a style they've dabbled with in the past (e.g. "Aly Walk With Me") but have never pulled off this successfully. "Aly Walk With Me" is all about holding back until going for the volume kill during the bridge, but "Recharge and Revolt" nails the vocal melody and doesn't rely on sheer volume to eventually hammer home its point. It's like nothing they've done before and therefore makes for the perfect album opener. It's also one of the best "(slightly) less is more" songs in the Raveonettes' catalogue that still manages to unimpeachably rock. The idea of marrying hip-hop and shoegaze seemed preposterous when Bowery Electric tried to pull it off in 1998, but I think I'm ready for the Raveonettes to give it an album-length try.

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