ARTIST: The Blessed Isles
RELEASE DATE: 29/04/16
RECORD COMPANY: Saint Marie Records
The genre of shoegaze has been built and constructed over time with different factions and inputs from here, there and everywhere, establishing many characteristics. Perhaps its greatest of these characteristic is that it is a genre that many touch over time, attempting to inject their own ideas within… But many of those have struggled to add a new dynamic with said ideas. For a genre as weathered as shoegaze, there can be no such thing as un-originality… And for those who bring nothing of their own, nothing unique to the table… Then the food will taste mediocre. Here in lies the problem with tackling shoegaze; something original must be done… And that is no easy task; but it is one that Brooklyn’s The Blessed Isles have set themselves on with their debut LP, ‘Straining Hard Against The Strength Of Night’, released through Saint Marie Records. The album itself has taken over five years and was recorded across four different states, making the album a precisely arranged piece of music making.
The LP opens with ‘Caroline’, an interesting and engaging mixture of new wave and coldwave, featuring the rat-a-tat-tat of an 80’s inspired drum machine and the distant echo of coldwave in the vocals. The guitar sound is distinct in its own manner, but evokes relation to The Cure’s Disintegration album era guitars, whose cold jangle touched on the outer rim of gothic rock. This track compliments the listener with a trait that will be featured throughout the album; and that is of quality production. ‘Caroline’ is a great example of the masterful layering that The Blessed Isles use immensely in their favour for the entire LP and that enhances their sound considerably. The lyrics and the style in which the guitars communicate with the other instruments is the most shoegaze element of this song, making it perhaps the furthest the band ever travel away from the genre on the LP. The following song ‘Like I Am Dreaming’ utilizes a similar production technique to the opening track, but moves away considerably from the coldwave elements that touched upon the previous song. The band move closer to an ambient-indie sound, while still clutching onto elements of ‘Caroline’ which makes the song come across as overly simple and indolent; thus less engaging. Thankfully the band return to the hum of coldwave, this time with more shoegaze elements, on the third track ‘Round And Round’. This again utilises distant guitar tones but throws a neat post-punk drum beat into the mixture. The lyrics stay interesting for the majority of the song, until the closing section, in which repetition and the chorus become less and less entrancing and the instrumentation fades into the background.
The following track ‘Confession’ is one of the LP’s grandest highlights. It takes full advantage of the rich synth of the 1980’s that the band toys with on previous tracks but never fully dove into. It’s classic drum machine, synth and minimalist guitar and samples push the lyrics (and the vocals) forward to an enjoyable length until the touch of coldwave and shoegaze seeps in, oh so slightly, which allows for simplistic and intelligent listening. Following this is one of the LP’s blandest and most clichéd tracks, ‘Give’, which sounds like it was written by George Michael and instrumented by copying the dance, shoegazed pinged music of ‘Caroline’… Thus making it, quite simply; boring. ‘Chase Away The Sun’ is a beautiful, slight and dreamy track; a true shoegaze/dream pop gem that stands out as a breath of fresh air. The track features fantastic melding of the bands instruments together and slows the tempo to a hum of brilliance.
‘Touch’ is a pure post-punk song, with distant and subtle guitar strumming and the double beat of post-punk under the skin of the song. The great feat mentioned before about the reinvention of shoegaze music is evident in its most pure form on the track ‘Winter Moon’ when the band mix their 80’s style with the loud and swirling synth and guitar of shoegaze, layering voices over and over making the song deeper and deeper until it rises as the LP’s ultimate experiment; amounting subsequently to a recognition and simultaneously as a unique interpretation of the shoegaze genre. ‘Proxy’ closes proceedings with the dance and percussion of post-punk and the distant sound of goth guitars… Before subsiding into the eighties manufactured instrumentation (melded into the bands favour on this LP and, indeed, this track).
Does ‘Straining Hard Against The Strength Of Night’ bring something unique to the preverbal table of shoegaze? Not really… The bands only truly original take on the genre is the brilliant ‘Winter Moon’ which stands out as down tempo mastery in a collage of ideas and different genres mixed together. In the LP’s entirety, the band repeats itself too often (and not in a gracious way), with bland sounding vocals reminiscent of a Pet Shop Boys cover band and many verses of disengaging lyrics with little appeal or relationship to the instrumentation. This can also be said in the realm of song writing, as some songs (not all) sound languid and tedious… And eventually the listener feels as though they have heard it all before; as if each virgin listen of the LP is done in a vein of familiarity. The LP does have its highlights, its own beauty, and a touch of the past in a genius-like nostalgic sense, though. The bands own style is evident in these very musical passages; and help to raise the LP too an elevated piece of shoegaze crafting that uses the past to project itself through to the listener with clever instrumentation and stellar production.
The album gets its full release via Saint Marie Records on the 29th April 2016 and is available to pre-order right now from: saintmarierecords.bandcamp.com/album/straining-hard-against-the-strength-of-night
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.