Wednesday, February 03, 2016

shoegaze dayz

Had fun doing this extended review of the Still In A Dream shoegaze box set for Pitchfork

One thing that came up when listening through the five discs was the fact that Eno's scenius concept  - although generally applied by critics to electronic dance music, where it's particularly useful and illuminating - is actually almost as helpful in understanding the evolution of rock. You can see the same sort of  flocking or herding patterns at work. Grunge is a good example - suddenly everyone is down-tuning their guitars, using certain guitar effects;  the singers are going for that frayed/fatigued old-man-voice-through-young-man's-body thing.

For rock fans too, “generic” isn’t necessarily a bad thing:  if you’re really into something -  the hardcore punk sound of early Eighties America, any number of other examples -- what you crave is more of the same, only slightly different.  Now, you'll probably have ingested enough auteur-theory to still privilege the leaders, but if you’re a true fanatic you’ll have plenty of appetite for the followers, the second-wave and second-division. Maybe even third-division. 

(That's not a comment about the next tune, which is glorious)

The other thing I got interested in thinking about,  when relistening to this stuff properly for the first time since it came out really, was the "politics of vagueness". Why did this nebulous sound appeal at that precise time?  Then, it felt like the next dialectical step in rock - away from the failed militancy and hyper-consciousness of postpunk, into a new psychedelia. Now, in retrospect, it feels like an aestheticisation of surrender. A retreat.

One thing that got lost on the cutting room floor was an unformed set of thoughts sparked by remembering that Neil from Slowdive used to talk about loving Pink Floyd, despite it being unfashionable. By which - I think - he meant not the totally-cool-again-by-that-point Barrett-phase Floyd (as in the Syd solo cover above). I assume he meant the then still off-limits Pink Floyd of Meddle and Dark Side of the Moon. Which as Ian MacDonald has written, was the sound of post-Sixties resignation; Kevin Ayer's "Oh! Wot A Dream" without the jauntiness.  

It occurred to me that the secret precursor to shoegaze - not so much sonically but the life-stance of wistful passivity - was an early Floyd B-side, written and sung by Rick Wright: "Paintbox".   A wonderful watercolour sketch of a washed-out, disillusioned and disengaged boy-man. Above all the chorus:  "I open the door to an empty room / Then I forget"

That in turn reminded me of a passage from Jonathan Coe's The Rotters Club, in which the protagonist Benjamin - one of life's bystanders - slips into a trance: 

He stared at the trees for a few moments, then allowed his eyes to glaze over until the objects before him lunged out of focus. A blur of slate grey and chocolate brown and pastel green...  How the world strained to keep itself busy! Already Benjamin felt so distant from all of that, so far removed. He continued merely to sit at the typewriter, in a swoon of heaviness and incuriosity... He would have to go too, in a minute. Couldn’t very well sit here all weekend. And yet there was something strangely comfortable about this listlessness, this solitude....   Far preferable now just to savour this aloofness, to close himself off, settle further into a luscious insensiblity that no sound, no image, would ever be able to pierce.”