I called it. As the cultural feedback loop swallows its own tail, I knew it was only a matter of time before nostalgia began nipping at the '90s. In our annual holiday letter to friends & family last year, I listed five positive aspects to the '80s revival. Along with a resurgence of interest in post-punk autodidacts the Fall, I predicted that, at the end of a tunnel full of eyeliner and flayed high-hats, there would be the light of a shoegaze revival.
My Bloody Valentine
Diving back into dreampop makes sense for everyone enamoured of postrock's ethereal propulsion but disappointed with its lack of solid songwriting. But it became inevitable when notorious recluse & guitar god Kevin Shields appeared aboveground to score Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation. After releasing the watershed shoegaze (and just plain classic) album Loveless with My Bloody Valentine in 1991, Shields balled up into a latter day Brian Wilson, appearing only as a supporting player on records by J Mascis and Primal Scream. As soon as news spread that the first original music by Shields in a decade would be on the silver screen, online indie demagogues Pitchforkmedia.com had declared Loveless the greatest album of the 1990s and the Creation Records website was getting more hits than Tyrone Biggums. It was only a matter of time before tidal guitars and cathedralic ambience returned to rock.
That day is upon us, my friends. And as the following bands demonstrate, I should be pretty damned careful about what I wish for.
Billy Corgan - The first time my wife ever heard My Bloody Valentine, she asked me if it was Smashing Pumpkins. When I told her it wasn't, she (a lifelong Pumpkins fan) dropped her jaw and said, "Billy Corgan owes these people some fucking royalties." To say the least. Corgan's career has been built lock, stock, and barrel on the Valentine template: the Big Muff-ed monster guitar tones, the heavy heartbeat pulse of the drums, the breathily cooed vocals, even Alan Moulder behind the mixing board. Fourteen years after Siamese Dream, his tunes may have a more mechanical New Wave heart, but Corgan's only variation on Shields' sound remains his nasal sneer and shitty poetry.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - The latest winners of the blogosphere hype gamble, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were destined to win the hearts of Baby Lester Bangses everywhere. Witness the hipster bait: a pretentiously childlish name, Pavement-approved lo-fi production, jangle-pop songcraft with a college-radio five-o-clock shadow, and a singer who shamelessly apes David Byrne. Talk about a safe bet. Like every other band prematurely canonized by the online music community (I'm looking at you, Arcade Fire), CYHSY are a perfectly competant pop band who write utterly unremarkable songs. This song sounds like an emasculated B-side from Isn't Anything fronted by Gordon Gano. Whoop dee crap.
The Wilderness - With their debut release on au current indie label Jagjaguwar and already having been presented their official "Members Only" jacket from Pitchfork, Baltimore's own Wilderness have a fairly full sail for a band that has just cast away. Their guitars scale the gothic spires of the Jesus & Mary Chain and Slowdive's better work. But their music - the tribal drumming, the metallic mantra of the guitar, the feral preacher frontman - is not their own. It's been done for the past eighteen years, and far better, by another Baltimore band you may have heard of: Lungfish.