Now Hear This! Shoegaze (2008)

Originally appeared in The Cauldron, (2008)

Now hear this!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Contributing Writer

Britain. Over the years we’ve seen countless musical trends from across the pond, and the interplay between popular music in the U.S. and U.K. (Rock n’ Roll influences the British invasion, which spurs psychadelia, which punk rebels against, etc) has certainly moved musicians to create new and different approaches, and many of our current genres are a result of this exchange. Of course, with so much variety over the years, entire movements can be lost in the shuffle.

A prime example of this would be the British “Shoegaze” scene, which peaked in popularity around 1990, but never really caught on in stateside. Blending atmospheric, dreamy pop stylings with wall-of-fuzz guitars, lush atmospheric synths, and vocals that were more about melody and texture than lyrical delivery, the shy, introspective musicians in bands like Ride and Slowdive earned the “Shoegazer” moniker by playing entire concerts without looking up at the audience, and focusing more on the ground than the camera during interviews. Unsurprisingly, this was difficult to market, especially with the theatrics of Grunge beginning to captivate the musical imagination of so many. The scene didn’t just fade into the night without any sort of legacy, however – the real impact of Shoegaze would be its influence on American alt-rock; from bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, The Verve and Mazzy Star to modern groups like Blond Redhead and Silversun Pickups, the genre had no shortage of effect on this side of the Atlantic.

California’s Starflyer 59 is arguably foremost among these acts. Frontman Jason Martin has been making quirky, introspective pop records for about 13 years now, and the band’s latest, Dial M should be hitting stores by the time this article is published. From the Sonic Youth-style fuzzy art rock of Silver and Gold, to the electric jangle pop anthems of Everybody Makes Mistakes and The Fashion Focus, the band continued releasing records at a prolific rate, arguably reaching a creative zenith with 2001’s Leave Here A Stranger, a symphonic surf-rock masterpiece that sounds like nothing so much as a soundtrack to an art film that was never made, by an existential director who doesn’t exist. In tribute to the Beach Boy’s seminal Pet Sounds, the album is recorded entirely in mono. From 2003-2006, Martin & Co. released one record per year, culminating in My Island, which saw a more up-tempo feel, and the release of a single and accompanying video. True to form, the band hired actors to play them in the video, with the musicians proper only appearing briefly towards the end, staring uncomfortably at their avatars, awkwardly out of place in the rock and roll world they created.

With 2007’s The Brothers Martin (a collaboration with Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric) the punch and atmosphere of Starflyer was blended with electric synth-pop to create one of the most surprisingly good records of the year – and with Starflyer’s latest, Dial M coming out roughly the same time as this article, Starflyer’s keeping the Shoegaze ethos of complex, beautiful songwriting alive and well, while infusing it with the verve of modern indie pop.

Even if he still can’t make eye contact with interviewers.

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