A Journal Of The Dark Arts
For the longest time, there was a huge shortage of good new shoegaze bands. Then, an explosion of interest in the 2000s, along with every other genre under the moon, caused a resurgence and a fresh fungal crop of excellent blurred bands.
This is good news for those of us who were running out of Loop and Seefeel and Ride back-catalog, thinking we’d eventually have to succumb and finally start listening to <gasp; sob>… pop music.
Thank the dark lords that bands like A Place To Bury Strangers and Have A Nice Life caused a re-appreciation, and a furthering, of the ‘gaze continuum.
There is a new sound, however, that is not the same as the old sound. It’s a tad more lo-fi, sometimes, a bit more homespun. I’m sure some of the original shoegazers started off more ragged, i could probably dig some out if i thought about it, but a lot of those bands were established, had record deals, and were recording in STUDIOS, with ENGINEERS and PRODUCERS. No matter how small yr band, how unknown you were, you were dealing with a ton more support and experience than yr average, everyday up-and-coming band, nowadays. Not that there is anything average or ordinary about Solemn Meant Walks.
SMW’s self-titled debut is the scabrous cousin of noisy, reverb-laden bedroom pop. It has been lying in the gutters, but it’s been staring at the stars. Because most of today’s gauzy, distant, shoegazed-influenced bands, adopting the ubiquitous canyon of reverb to reflect a stylized and disassociative air, but at the price of the growl and menace of bands like the Jesus And Mary Chain or early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. You know, back when rock ‘n roll was dangerous. When it wore black leather.
Because Solemn Meant Walks are not a straight shoegaze revivalist outfit, but rather a goth shoegaze ensemble, although i would probably go one better and call it darkwave. The main difference would be in the bass playing of Allie Frost, who adopts the post-punk chorus/flange effect, like Bauhaus, early The Cure, or Joy Division. These immediately distinguishes it from the first wave of British Shoegaze (FWoBS, you heard it here first), and gives the music way more of a rhythmic drive, and pulse. Makes it more aggressive, more passionate, serving as the body and nervous system, around which the guitars and ethereal vocals of Ami Gloria swirl, like dreams or memories.
The next thing which makes Solemn Meant Walks stand out from the pack is the drumming of Andrew Sole, which is ungodly funky. He must be a devotee of Vishnu, because i swear the man has multiple limbs! His drumming gives a tight and funky syncopated downbeat to the vaporous heady proceedings, giving a sense of surface tension, tearing at the lacy veil. This level of funkiness has not been often heard in shoegaze circles, outside of a few bands like The Swirlies or some Lush records, and makes Solemn Meant Walks way more driving and energetic than the frequently melancholic somnambulism of straight ethereal shoegaze.
It is an interesting mix, this blend of muscular and wistful. Ami Gloria’s vocals are equal parts Liz Fraser and Siouxsie Sioux – part enchantress, part hunter. Her voice has the same opalescent plastic sheen as Fraser’s, which gives the album a shivering snowglobe sensation, while the band rages away in a controlled detonation, like a ’67 Jaguar.
Indeed, this is music for driving – 1:00 a.m. through back alleys, trying to make it to the club, or leaving, heading to the beach, to the black waters, to catch the sunrise. Solemn Meant Walks puts you in a world of yr own, a world of romance and risk and violence and adventure.
Most of the album works as a whole, as many shoegaze albums do, to create a prolonged and sustained mood. “Vanessa” stood out as a particularly strong lead single, with crisp hardcore double-beat and thick guitars – the band are taking their time and sound in complete control. They no longer sound INSPIRED BY, but rather INSPIRING.
It’s exciting that this level of black clad sound is coming out now. Back when the world was obsessed only with the new, busily disregarding anything older than 5 minutes, dark psychedelic guitar rock just didn’t get the fair shake it deserved. The mission was not adequately explored, there is so much you can do within the realm of romantic, aggressive, depressive, optimistic, and sensory-bending music. So many different kinds of visionary music. So many different kinds of visions.