A Journal Of The Dark Arts
On their first album in 5 years, Austin, TX’s Ringo Deathstarr trade in more mainstream shoegaze for more esoteric influences.
When My Bloody Valentine were on an indefinite hiatus in the seemingly endless lapse between Loveless and 2013’s M B V, i would check the My Bloody Valentine website every single week for news of a reunion. This went on for an entire decade before their reunion in 2008. If you were to tell me, during that decade when my shoegaze fascination was at its height, that there was a bunch of My Bloody Valentine tracks i’d never heard, i’d have been overjoyed. This was before the shoegaze revival, keep in mind, when the movement was kickstarted, with bands like A Place To Bury Strangers started doing interesting things with the genre again. In those days, we were desperately digging for scraps, exploring for unheard sounds and under-appreciated bands. We tried to convince ourselves to like Moose while weepily replaying our Swirlies records.
Genre music fans don’t need the wheel to be reinvented with every album. A sludge metalhead, a d’n’b warrior, a psych cosmonaut often listen to something because it sounds similar to something they’ve heard before. Sometimes you just want to put on a sweet stoner metal album and bang your head. Sometimes you just want to listen to see some frantic IDM and have yr brain spun.
When working within a specific sub-genre, bands often have to find that sweet spot between innovation and tradition. With shoegaze, for instance, you can probably expect an album to at least take Loveless into consideration, as it’s pretty acknowledged as the gold standard of shoegaze. The first shoegaze bands essentially created the grammar of the genre, which is then warped and spun into compelling new shapes and stories. To fall too far outside of the accepted sounds of the style and it’s no longer shoegaze, per se.
This is a rather long way to say you most likely have heard something like Ringo Deathstarr’s self-titled album. There’s a peculiar deja vu quality, like you’re listening to some lost Cocteau Twins outtakes or lost My Bloody Valentine b-sides. If you’re a shoegaze fan, that’s likely a cause for celebration.
There’s a peculiar deja vu quality, like you’re listening to some lost Cocteau Twins outtakes or lost My Bloody Valentine b-sides. If you’re a shoegaze fan, that’s likely a cause for celebration.
Ringo Deathstarr have been indebted to the shoegaze classics since the beginning, taking the vocabulary of distorted guitar, dreamy vocals, growling bass, and punchy drums and making them their own. On Ringo Deathstarr, the Austin, TX trio trade in more mainstream shoegaze sounds for some more obscure influences. The results are remarkable, some of the freshest, most invigorating shoegaze sounds we’ve heard in some years.
2015’s Pure Mood pledged its allegiance to more commercial shoegaze sounds, most particularly Alan Moulder‘s production for The Smashing Pumpkins. Pure Mood traded in the raw, roughneck guitar strum-und-drang of the Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and, to a lesser extent, Siamese Dream. On Ringo Deathstarr, they seem to be drawing from a more obscure pool, the first wave of shoegaze bands as well as a smattering of some of their original influences.
A love for early Cocteau Twins, Lush, Slowdive, Swervedriver and, of course, My Bloody Valentine radiate throughout Ringo Deathstarr. This is largely due to the especially ethereal vocals of Alex Gehring, interspersed with more down-to-Earth tracks from Ringo Deathstarr founder Elliott Frazier. The alternating girl/guy vocals automatically bring to mind Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, with a similar mix of heavenly beauty and raging chaos.
Of course, as is often the case with genre art in any medium, the angels are in the details. The fact that Ringo Deathstarr are a trio offer space to let each musician’s talents shine through. Elliott Frazier’s guitar glistens, snarls, levitates, soars. Alex Gehring’s bass throbs, groans, pummels. Daniel Coborn‘s drums cut through the mix as he cycles through every rhythmic subdivision of a 4/4 beat you could think of, from shuffling two-steps to frantic breakbeats. With Ringo Deathstarr we wonder if Daniel Coborn might possibly be the best shoegaze drummer on the planet at this point.
You can hear traces and echoes of the first wave of shoegaze’s influences, as well, especially the psychedelic pop of The Beatles, with the backwards-sounding guitar of “Once Upon A Freak” recalling the psych pastoralism of The Beatles’ “Rain.”
If you’ve been waiting for a new classic shoegaze record, with Ringo Deathstarr, that wait is over. There’s songs for days, chock full of catchy, hummable melodies. There’s exquisite production, equal parts Alan Moulder and Robin Guthrie. Above all, there is something unique and personal about Ringo Deathstarr. Like everyone working in an established genre, they take the tropes of their artform and spin it into something new, like a fairy tale being retold in modern times.
Ringo Deathstarr is out now on Club AC30.