BMP’s Super Soft Metal Vacation
You were taking a break from metal with your pals the other day.
Metal production is cyclical. Every year starts with a lull in January, gradually building in quality from mid-February to around September when the ground splits and erupts with an endless torrent of big releases aimed at capturing critics for list season. Proximity is key as we are an ostrich-brained lot prone to rediscovering the world anew every few minutes. Once December rolls around, we have consumed our fill for the year and just want to bask in the molasses slowdown of the holidays. Then it starts all over again. Each year is a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie.
But sometimes I don’t want more pie. Sometimes I need a break, even an extended one. And that is when I go on a metal vacation.
While December and January usually offer sufficient respite from the mental illness that is obsessively combing new releases, it wasn’t the case this year. I needed something new, something softer. At the same time, I still craved a big sound. My mood demanded something that would tenderly cradle me in its arms, hold me close to its breast, and slowly suffocate my life force. What I wanted was shoegaze and its sometimes indistinguishable sibling, dream pop.
I’m talking the pillow-soft kind, the kind that sounds like listening to a record while you’re underwater and smacked on opiates, the kind where the pace varies from white kids doing a slow, mopey sway to a mid-paced, uncoordinated, convulsing dance like they missed a dose of epilepsy meds. So check your aggression, riff-centric desires, and metal cred at the door because we’re entering a world of twee sentimentality and atmospheric sulking.
Life on Venus – Odes to the Void
We’ll rip the band-aid off fast in this piece by starting with the softest, sadboi-est jams in the bunch. Life on Venus is a six-piece outfit out of Moscow who puts the dream in dream pop. Their brand of The Cure, Bethany Curve, and Slowdive-inspired, reverb-drenched confections was just what the doctor ordered as a counterpoint to my usual heavy diet of metal. The tracks are simple verse-chorus format with exceedingly pleasant, wistful male vocals floating over a gently-drifting, hazy river of pedal effects and gothy basslines. Songs like “A Story Ends,” “ For the Kill,” and “Darker Than Blue” showcase Life on Venus’ ability to craft infectious hooks that demand a sing along while you comfort yourself in a cottony cloud cocoon of melody. On occasion, like with “What Lies Beneath” and “At the Point of No Return,” they will belt out thick, heavily distorted riffs to add heft to the chorus portion and break steadily building tension from the verse.
While Life on Venus may not be breaking new ground musically and may rely on poppy song structures and tropes (bane of the trve kvlt), the result is gorgeous. They’ve succeeded in creating a luscious yet gloomy dreamscape of memorable songs I enjoyed experiencing dozens of times. If any of this kind of stuff interests you, give it a spin and let yourself float away.
4/5 Robert Smiths Holding a Piña Colada
Blankenberge – More
Sticking with dream pop from Mother Russia (St. Petersberg this time), we have Blankenberge. Where Life on Venus takes a goth-tinged path through the genre, Blankenberge is more upbeat with driving basslines. Song structures are less defined, tending to glide on ethereal and delicately evolving, bouncy atmospheres highlighted by reverbed, angelic female vocals. The package is wrapped tight in a slightly overdriven noise rock-ish rhythm guitar and post- twinkling leads. Every element of their sound is gently folded on top of the other to form a solid wave of coziness to get lost in, creating an almost ambient focus on overall experience and mood rather than in identifiable hooks to worm their way into your brain. This amorphous aspect of Blankenberge songs can be a blessing and a curse. While immensely pleasant to hear, it lacks the memorability factor that makes me want to return again and again to an album. But when I’m looking for work music or a record to sooth me after a hard day, this would definitely be near the top of the pile.
3/5 Wistfully Staring Out the Car Window with a Smile on my Faces
Grivo – Elude
After a break in the upbeat, back into the swaying mope we go. Hailing from the capital of hipsterdom, Austin, TX, Grivo sets its sights on shoegaze trudging through molasses, a heavier, doomier, more hopeless variety of the famed downward-looking genre. Their songs eschew dynamics built through tempo changes to, instead, concentrate on building tension through adding layers of sound and increasing intensity of developing passages. Like almost all other shoegaze acts, the overall feel is a wall of reverb where the music is a solid yet intangible mass of sound, the kind I could imagine ‘70s psychedelia making if the drug of choice were heroin instead of LSD.
As with Blankenberge, Elude is more a mood album, though evoking the opposite mood. The vast majority of tracks move along in a depressive, aloof saunter, content with weighing down the listener with wave after wave of languid uncaring. And that’s fine. Shoegaze, in general, has a detached air about it, which is one of its draws for me. I can drift out without fear of being lost when I tune back in as its textures are always waiting to envelop me. But that also causes songs to bleed into each other. Not always, though. One track in particular, “C.A.,” stands out for its urgency. It’s a beautiful, driving song that moves in and out of loud, brash, shimmering riffs contrasted with softer, contemplative clean strumming. I would love to hear an album from them with more songs like it. Unfortunately, as is, there is a lot of forgettable, though very pleasant, material.
2.5/5 Slightly Disgruntled But Slightly Satisfied Porkinses on an Umbrella’d Pool Chair
Greet Death – New Hell
Last and certainly not least, we arrive at Greet Death. You would be forgiven thinking that, with this band name and album title, it would be a cheesy goth band or maybe a death-doom act. Luckily for us all, they’re not. Instead, we have a fantastic record that would have been one of my favorites of 2019 had I heard it sooner.
Greet Death is not pure shoegaze. They meld elements of American folk, grunge, and post-rock with pinches of psychedelia sprinkled here and there into one scrumptious platter of dejected and vulnerable goodness. Where so much shoegaze relies on massive reverb to fill all voids in explorable soundspace, Greet Death tones it down a bit for a more open, clear canvas for increased precision between all instruments and vocals. This allows the listener to hear the gradually layered melodies and song construction in discernable component parts as opposed to a monolithic sound of ebbing and flowing intensity.
It’s a flattering approach for them because these boys can write songs and know how to pace them throughout an album. Sometimes (maybe all the time, idk) I can only describe why this is the case like an idiot. This is one of those times so here goes. They know when to play slow and when to play fast(er), when to play loud and when to play quiet, when to play clean and when to play distorted. They know how to build tension, when to release it, and when to build it again. They accomplish this within songs and at the aggregate album level. The dynamics, to get technical, crush my balls.
None of this would be possible without the individual performances to let the songwriting shine. The guitars are phrased and pedaled for maximum impact, the drums keep the tempos fresh and interesting, and the bass provides the low-register melodies in perfect complement. But the standout to me is the vocals. Greet Death has two vocalists, one with a sort of mournful crooning, and the other like a more nasal, androgynous Destroyer. Both took some time for me to get used to. Once familiarity sunk in, I came to love them individually and as a pairing. They take the usual depressive sappy shit like love, heartbreak, and friendship and give them life through quality lyrics and emotion-laden expression.
In all, it gud. Listen to it. Also, the long tracks “You’re Gonna Hate What You’ve Done” and closer “New Hell” are monumental builders you shouldn’t miss. Do it.
4.5/5 Ending Vacations
So that’s it. The metal vacation is over. The shoe gazed into abyss, and the dream pop gazed back at shoe. What do you listen to when you don’t want to hear metal for a bit? Give me the softest, poserist stuff you got.