A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Shoegaze/Dream Pop legends Lush return with their first new material in 20 years, managing to sound relevant and fresh and timeless, simultaneously.
Shoegaze might possibly be the most mistreated musical genre in History, as far as the music press is concerned. British weeklies lauded and adored the first wave of classic Shoegaze records, only to turn on the bands immediately, for no apparent reason, deriding ‘gaze as “the scene that celebrates itself”. This was just one more backlash in the cultural wars between “art for art’s sake” and “art as political statement”. The change in critical favor – from overnight sensation to a four-letter word, again overnight – is just one more victim in the music press’ war against privilege, with rock ‘n roll mags pretending that every up-and-coming star had to be coming from the streets, from some hard luck story, as those stories are easier to sell.
Sadly, Shoegaze was one of the last genres to die a hideous death, before the atemporality of the Internet would take hold. At the time, there seemed to be a sentiment that one couldn’t like Britpop, shoegaze, grunge, or rave at the same time, not to even mention the genres that had already slipped from favor like, god forbid, punk or goth.
This sudden shift in critical favor is responsible for ripping apart some of the most interesting guitar-centric psychedelic Indie Rock of the early ’90s, including My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, The Jesus And Mary Chain and, of course, Lush.
Had critics or listeners paid a little closer of attention and dug a little deeper, they might have realized that Lush’s origins placed them smack dab between legit punk street cred and a privileged upper class, with principle songwriters Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi met at private schools, despite both having unconventional upbringings. Being less affluent and itinerant, thanks to military upbringings, would make both outcasts in the cutthroat pecking order of snobby British prep schools, causing them to become the resident freaks and music geeks.
Anderson and Berenyi would bond over musical obsession, starting a cringe-worthy ‘zine, chopping out chunks of their hair, and just basically fucking up the status quo, which is pretty much what punks have always done, everywhere.
Anderson and Berenyi were very young when they came to the attention of 4AD’s Ivo Watts-Russell, who would release Lush’s seminal LPs Spooky, Split, and Lovelife. Sadly, the stars were not right for Lush, who were pigeonholed by management into trying to break into the American scene, as they assumed British audiences could give two tosses about Shoegaze. This caused Lush to move more into the tougher, rougher Britpop sounds, with Lovelife, which was the band’s highest selling album, despite being many of the band members’ least favorite work.
The final nail was driven into the coffin – pardon the inconsiderate pun – with the tragic death of founding drummer Chris Acland, who hung himself at his parent’s house on Oct. 17, 1997. The band would officially call it quits in 1998, following a tour in Japan.
When Lush’s first few albums were coming out, there was this feeling that artists and albums were supposed to be some sort of political statement, that everything had to be “raw” and “real”, some offshoot of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., The Clash’s London Calling, and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. While there will always be room for great protest records, that’s certainly not all there is to life. This totally overlooks art’s ability to challenge and change the world with colorful new daydreams, integrating sounds from other cultures, a general elevation of taste, or a greater sense of empathy, both between the audience and the artist, as well as with the wider world at large.
In the early ’90s, it seemed unforgivable for an artist to be broadcasting from a crystaline cocoon, which was seen as precious and escapist. In today’s hyper-individualized world, however, we’re all shouting out of our cocoons, broadcasting from Crystal Cities and Ivory Towers, hoping to reach some kindred spirits… that there might be another voice on the end of the HAM radio.
This is the perfect climate to receive Blind Spot, the short-n-tasty new EP from Lush, which perfectly blends the personal, the poetic, the psychedelic, and the artful. It may not be a soundtrack for burning flags or molotov cocktails, but don’t we get enough of that in our daily lives anyway?
Blind Spot comes on like a sweet hit of Sativa, with the dreamy strumming of “out Of Control”, like a great lost Mazzy Star single, with Emma Anderson’s unmistakable light, drifting chorused vocals drifting like flower petals on the breeze. “Out Of Control” is about the most un-punk-rock topic of all: raising a difficult teen. “Out Of Control” explores what it’s like to just want to wipe all of someone’s cares away with our loving touch, and how frustrating it can be when we can’t. Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll likely be able to relate to the sentiment, and even if you can’t, the single sounds bloody fantastic, with Lush’s trademarked guitar sparkle, confectionary sugar vocals sounding as pertinent as ever.
With every band reformation, there will always be haters and nay-sayers, saying this is just some cynical money grab or nostalgic exploitation. This couldn’t be further from the truth, with Blind Spot. Not only is the culture in a better place to hear new material from one of the most essential Dream Pop bands on the planet, modern production really agrees with Lush’s psychedelia. Guitars soar gracefully, like a phoenix falling in slow-motion, like the tail end of “Out Of Control”, keyboards are swathed in a reverbed Hall Of Mirrors, while the drums kick and punch and caress like they’ve never done before, courtesy of former Elastica drummer Justin Welch, longtime friend of Chris Acland.
To be honest, Lush were never my favorite goth/shoegaze/Dream Pop band, as a fledgling miserablist goth boy in the ’90s. I didn’t yet understand the dreamy, creamy impressionistic pastel sound pallet. I likely couldn’t appreciate the subtle and tasteful psychedelic arrangements, as my ears had not yet been trained towards grand sprawling psychedelic opuses or classic albums. Like the rest of the world, I thought “old” = “square”. Like the rest of the world, i was deaddead wrong.
One can’t help but lament, a bit, that psychedelic guitar rock fell out of favor for a few decades. I would have liked to have seen what might have happened, had Shoegaze continued to mingle with the romanticism of Goth, via the neoclassicism of labels like 4AD, mixed with the druggy excess of the ’80s underground.
But, as with all revivals, we state “better late than never”, and set our sights on the present and the future. Lush remind us that we can be smart and punk as fuck, tasteful but still emotional, talented without being austere. They remind us to dig out our classic records by The Byrds and Gene Clarke, as well as The Television Personalities and The Stranglers and The Chameleons, and trip the fuck out.
Let Blind Spot re-invigorate your Lush obsession, or start afresh, if you’re just climbing on board. This is a Golden Age for Lush fans, new and old alike, as the band are playing their first shows in 2 decades.
04/19 – Portland, OR @ Crystal Room
04/20 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox
04/21 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
04/23 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
04/30 – Manchester, UK @ Manchester Academy
05/06 – London, UK @ Roundhouse
05/07 – London, UK @ Roundhouse
08/13 – Oslo, NO @ Oya Festival
09/14 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
09/15 – Boston, MA @ Royale
09/18 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
09/21 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
09/22 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
In addition to the tour dates, 4AD have issued a lavish new CD box set, Chorus, with all of the Lush LPs, including a bunch of unreleased material. The best-of compilation, <em>Ciao!</em>, recently saw print on vinyl for the first time, on 2LP red wax, and all of the albums, including the greatest hits, are being compiled on a deluxe vinyl box set for Record Store Day, with <em>Origami</em>
Blind Spot is out now on the band’s own Edamame Records!
Watch the official video for lead single “Out Of Control” below: