Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best Shoegaze, Nu-gaze, Dream Pop albums

Here's a list of some of my favorite albums by shoegazer bands that I think you should know about. This is by no means a definitive list. It's just several bands and albums whose music I have really connected with or enjoyed. I have a lot of this type of music in my collection, thanks to E-music, and as I listen to it more, I will continue to add more bands and albums that I really like to this list. I am leaving the classic shoegaze bands off of this list, since their reputations are already well established, and instead am focusing on more recent and less well known artists.

The Daysleepers - Drowned in a Sea of Sound - Though I was aware of their two well regarded EPs, this, their debut full-length, is the first thing by them that I downloaded and really listened to. I liked it at first, but wasn't blown away by it. Then I woke up in the morning with the melody for one of the songs (Lovesparkles) going through my head. It was beautiful and I couldn't quite remember where I had heard it, but I knew I needed to figure it out. Some reflection brought this album to mind so I listened to it again, found the song, and realized just how good it is. This definitely has the energy of a rock album, but it's also very dreamy and atmospheric, featuring airy, sparkling guitars over driving bass and drums. The opening song, "Release the Kraken," has a catchy arpeggiated guitar riff that reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." The slower songs like "Distant Creatures," "Lovesparkles," and "The Secret Place" are all lovely and among my favorites on the record. Also really nice is the instrumental piece "Space Whale Migration."

Monster Movie - Last Night Something Happened - Monster Movie is a band featuring Christian Saville, formerly of Slowdive, which almost establishes their shoegazer credentials before you've even heard the music. Thankfully, the music lives up to the expectations generated by such credentials. I hear an element of britpop mixed in with the shoegaze sound here. There are so many songs on this album that really stick out that it's hard to keep track of them all. The instrumental opener, "First Trip to the City," features a great organ part over a slow but steady beat and a longing, melancholy melody. After this the album kicks into gear with "Shortwave," another emotionally engaging piece of yearning, mid-tempo, minor key melancholy featuring a spacious guitar sound. "Waiting" is a catchy, upbeat number that brings back the organ and features the lovely male/female vocal harmonies that are a hallmark of shoegazer bands like Slowdive. "Waiting on a Train" is an all out rocker featuring crunchy guitars and a driving beat. "4th and Pine," the song that gives the album its name, is a catchy bass driven track with a big chorus that features more of the wonderful vocal harmonies, and "Ooby" is another one of those tracks whose big, catchy chorus ingrained itself into my brain even before I was really well acquainted with the album. This is a definite winner.

Tears Run Rings - Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never - I downloaded this almost on a whim after listening to the 30 second samples on E-music, and boy am I glad I did. This is a great album. A lot of it has an edgier sound but still maintains the atmosphere and vibe of shoegaze music. Perhaps you could say the reference here is more My Bloody Valentine than Slowdive though that isn't quite right either, as some of the songs here like the slow, dreamy "Beautiful Stranger" are lifted right out of the Slowdive play book, with their big, warm, fuzzy, floating guitars and harmony vocals. The melodies are very strong throughout the album. Among my favorites: "How Will the Others Survive?," a driving melody, backed by a blistering wall of guitar noise, and featuring a cool two note opening riff; "World Upside Down," with it's pronounced back-beat, choppy but still dreamy rhythm guitar, and echoey vocals; and the uber-cool "Mind the Wires," which has a great fade in opening featuring a haunting female vocal part. "Waiting for the End" is also a lovely slower number. Highly recommended.

Highspire - Your Everything - This is another one that leans towards the edgier side of the shoegaze spectrum a lot. I haven't listened to this closely enough yet to pick out individual songs and talk about their features, but the few times I've played it I've been very impressed overall. One thing that sets this album apart from the others is that it experiments around with other styles of music, introducing trip-hop rhythms and big groovy chill-out base lines into several songs. So the album veers between driving, feedback oriented guitar numbers, slower dreamier tracks, and the trip-hop oriented tracks. The last track on the album features about two minutes of music, followed by about nine minutes of silence, and then a strange two minute spoken word track featuring a programed beat. When I become more familiar with this album, I try to fill in some of the details here.

Alright, that's a good start for now. I've been writing for over an hour and need to take a break, so I'll add to this list in further posts. One more thing of note that occured to me as was writing this is that all of the bands in this post are on the same record label, Clairecords. Clairecords is a label that specializes in shoegaze type music, so if you're into that you should definitely visit their webpage or their page on e-music.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Good find of the week: albums from Instinct Ambient Series available for download on

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the things I would like to do with this blog is help direct people towards hard-to-find or out-of-print music that becomes available again at reasonable prices, especially as downloads. This week I'd like to feature three albums originally released on the Instinct Ambient label during the mid 1990s. These albums are part of the numbered, monthly series of ten albums that the label released in 1995. This series of releases, featuring highly stylized, eye-catching artwork and distinct packaging, is very hard to find and highly desired by many ambient music lovers. All of the albums in the series are currently available used from, though the prices on a number of them are on the high side ($50-$75).

The good news, however, is that three of the albums have recently been made available as downloads through the MP3 store (a fourth, Adham Shaikh's "Journey to the Sun," has actually been re-released for some time now as a download, though with slightly altered cover art and no longer sporting the distinct numbering identifying it as part of the Instinct Ambient Series.) The three albums are as follows:

Facil - Facil - #4 in the series

Escape Tank - Escape Tank - #8 in the series - Escape Tank was a production of the ever prolific Taylor Deupree, who aside from being a well regarded ambient artist in his own right, was also the head of Instinct Records and is now head of the well respected 12k records. Deupree is also highly regarded for his ambient work under the Human Mesh Dance moniker, which released two albums on the Instinct label and the first album on the 12k label, as well as numerous tracks on various compilation CDs.

Control X - To Abort Transmission - #9 in the series

In the past, I owned two of these three albums for a short time, but never really had the chance to listen to them enough that I feel I can give substantial commentary on them here. Nor have I had the opportunity to download and listen to them yet. I just know they are highly regarded among many ambient and electronic music lovers, are highly sought after, and, in some cases, very expensive. To find them available, therefore, as downloads from for less than $10 dollars each is rather exciting and I am sure that many people will want to grab them for such a great price.

I'll also include a link to Adham Shaikh's "Journey to the Sun" album, since it was part of the original Instinct Ambient series and is an excellent album. Also, here is the original cover art, which I like better than the slightly revised cover art on the re-released version.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Favorite Netlabel Releases: Part II

Well, it's been awhile since I wrote and posted the first entry featuring my list of favorite netlabel releases. I wrote in detail about three of those releases and said I'd write about the others as I had time and energy. So, after a six week break, due mostly to laziness and time wasting, here's the other three albums:

Colin Everingham - Skies of Error - (Enpeg Digital)- This album is distinguished from the others on my list by being the only one that you have to pay for, albeit only $2.00. Probably the best classification of its musical style would be dark IDM. It is an album I think of as "cloudy day music." It evokes for me images of dark clouds rolling in from the Northwest across the wide open landscape of Northern Illinois, where I live. That alone would be reason enough to love it, as far as I'm concerned. The sound of it is dark (though not opressively so), melancholy, and sometimes ominous.

The opening track, "In Memory, Differences Collide," has an almost wistful feel to it and makes me think of first waking up on a grey, overcast morning. After that opening, the album really gets going with the darker, more rhythmic "Subtractim," which features a chiming music box melody overtop of the gloom. "We Can Never Be" features a more ominous sort of overcast melancholy that evokes a deep sense of loss. The rest of the album largely follows suit, in varying degrees, from the template set by these three tracks. The short interlude "Similarities in Mind" features some darkly melodic piano playing, and the following track, "Corduroy Coast," features what sounds like an acoustic guitar. Several tracks feature a nice low bass sound that really adds a fullness to the music, while the beats and rhythms definitely reflect a mechanistic, Autechre type feel, but are nicely mixed in with the rest of the music, never becoming grating or obnoxious, even at the their most pronounced. At times, I am reminded of Gridlock, though with a less industrial feel. The album ends with "You Were Gone," six minutes of beatless, melancholy ambience. Another perfect album for a rainy day.

(Val)liam - Early Reflections - ( This excellent ambient album was originally released on the Dewtone netlabel, which has since reformatted its webpage and no longer releases new music, as far as I know. It can still be downloaded, however, from In contrast to the Colin Everingham album discussed above, this album brings to mind sunshine and cloud flecked blue skies. It has a dreamy feel to it that evokes heat waves rising on a slow summer afternoon when you're out of school and September still seems far off in some impossibly distant future.

After opening with the relatively short "Orange Horizon," which features a vaguely ominous and anticipatory plucked acoustic guitar melody, the album moves into two seven minute tracks of wonderfully dreamy, slow, warm, ambient music, which feature what sounds like sampled bird or animal noises mixed in. While the use of such sounds can sometimes evoke images of cheesy new-age nature music, these tracks avoid that possibility, much like Future Sounds of London's "Lifeforms" album, though where that album calls to mind a trip deep into some exotic jungle, these tracks evoke something more familiar and closer to home if still tinged by the mysterious. The rest of the album pretty much follows suit from these open tracks. The acoustic guitar makes a reappearance on a couple tracks, with the rest of the album mostly featuring beatless, warm, vaguely melodic, drifting ambient pieces. The album ends with a surprise, however, as the last track, which is also the title track, starts out with the dreamy ambient feel of most of the other tracks but then quickly morphs into a beat driven, ambient trance track. Though this might sound like a jarring incongruity with the rest of the album, it actually works rather well, as the track never loses the sunny, warm ambient feel of the album as a whole and calls to mind images of flying off into the bright blue summer skies that the rest of the album has evoked so well.

I own a lot of ambient music and this album is a standout, not only among netlabel releases but in general. It occupies a unique place in being deeply peaceful and evoking the natural world without devolving into new age cheesiness, while also avoiding the detached, isolationist feeling of a lot of ambient music. It's the perfect soundtrack for sitting in the backyard on a slow, sunny, summer afternoon and listening to the sounds of the neighborhood around you.

Xerxes - The Mirror Formula - (Xerxes webpage) - If the last two albums featured were perfect for cloudy and sunny days respectively, this album is more of a night or evening record for me (Of course you can listen to any music anytime you want. These are just my subjective impressions). Stylistically, this album falls somewhere in between ambient and chillout music.

The fittingly titled "Prologue" begins the album with dark, haunting, drawn out notes and builds a sense of anticipation by slowly adding in an ominous pulsing bass line and an almost martial sounding drum part before descending again back down to the opening notes. For a comparison, think of the progression of Massive Attack's "Angel" from beginning to end, though this track is far more restrained than that one. After that introduction, the album picks up with "Pirayana," a beat driven piece of moody ambient/chillout. This is followed by "Can You See This," a slower piece of ambient/chillout music, with a prominent piano melody. From here the album is nicely paced, moving back and forth between the darker, more beat driven ambient/chillout pieces and the slower more melodic, piano driven pieces. The album ends on what might be its best track, "Christmas Layers," which falls somewhere in between the more beat driven pieces and the slower more piano oriented tracks. An unforgetable, beautiful piano melody is played over a steady mid-tempo beat. The production here, as on the other albums included in this list, is excellent.

Since this album was released, Xerxes has begun to receive attention from some record labels and has released a couple of tracks on various artist compilations which can be purchased from the iTunes store and elsewhere. This album, however, is absolutely free from the Xerxes's webpage, which features a large selection of excellent tracks available for free download.

Well, that's it for my all time favorite netlabel releases. I hope you've found this list informative and have maybe been introduced to some great music you didn't know about before. I would also like, at some point, to do a list of my favorite netlabel compilations but I don't know when I'll get to that. I'll also try, when I have the time and energy (my constant mantra) to post on other music I find interesting and worthwhile, and to inform readers about good deals and cool finds that I make. Peace.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Good find of the week: Vidna Obmana's rare "Trilogy" for download from Emusic

One thing I want to do with this blog, is make listeners aware of good albums that have gone out of print or are hard to find, but that become available again, especially in a downloadable format.

For those who care, Emusic has just made Vidna Obmana's "Trilogy" available for download. Obmana makes what I would call deep ambient music much in the vein of Steve Roach or Robert Rich. The "Trilogy" is a box set featuring three of Obmana's earliest recordings; "Passage in Beauty," "Ending Mirage," and "Shadowing in Sorrow." Hard copies are pretty rare. A used one goes for about $100 on, and a new one there is selling for about $250. I was lucky enough to score a cheap copy of "Ending Mirage" a few years ago, when I was first discovering Obmana's music, but have never been able to get my hands on the other two discs. "Ending Mirage" is a wonderful disc, filled with haunting, melodic, ambient soundscapes, and I understand the other two discs are in a similar vein, though I have not had the chance to listen to them yet (I just downloaded them this evening). All three albums together comprise about 21 tracks and an Emusic membership with 30 downloads is only about $10 a month. It's a great deal, even if you've never heard Obmana's music before but are a fan of serious ambient music.

P.S. When you go to Emusic, you will have to find and download each disc individually by name. They are not listed collectively under the "Trilogy" heading.