Review Summary: I stood in line and ate my Twinkie, I stood in line I had to wait.4 of 4 thought this review was well written
When concerning any and all things dream pop or shoegaze, few names will arise from the queried soul in their attempt to faithfully answer the dividing do you like hazy shoegazer rock?
inquiry. Even those who have had an intricate relationship with the genre at times have little more to respond with other than: “Yeah My Bloody Valentine is cool”
, or “sure, I love ‘Just Like Honey’ -- wasn’t that from a movie?”
While the music itself, right from the get-go can be very divisive, the slow pace, tone heavy sound with a tendency to drone out, notes bleeding together with vocals forming one giant fluffy wall of fuzz that’s almost as overbearing as it is beautiful -- its not everyone’s cup’o tea.
Even the many who’ve found so much to love between the chest rattling thumps and buzz of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s towering distortion or MBV’s serene soundscapes don’t always think to delve deeper. Unaware of the breadth of quality that lies amongst the vast piles of boring, two-tone bull*** lurking about. Also another misconception being that the genre was strictly crafted and torch held by a small group of British musicians, which not only is a terrible mistake in the sense of musical history, but a detriment to your ears. Because while on one side of the Atlantic, Dream pop was evolving from the frayed distortion of JaMC and fractured pop of the Cocteau Twins into what would later become known as the staple Shoegaze
sound, or in other words -- Loveless.
On the other it was being mixed with local cultural mainstays such as psychedelic rock and jazz, at times, such as with On Fire,
to stratospheric success.
In the United States, specifically in the North East, a different brand of dream-pop
was emerging. A style of music that took the tonal touches and slow pacing of its forefather and infused it with easily discernable, yet still very airy vocals, apparent individual notes along with the drone as well as forays into jazz, classic rock and oh yeah; solos
Slowcore it was coined, very fitting considering the pacing with which the music was played, but also the build up. Unlike Shoegaze, where a single tonal motif is generally held through out most of the song, Slowcore bands such as Codeine and The Red House Painters prefer to build the song a-la post rock; slow, meandering beginnings culminating into epic
sendoffs. This style of play not only gave the music itself a refreshing taste yet innately relaxing feel but set the stage for the subsequent twenty years of (insert)gaze aping that’s been more than prevalent over the past decade(s). This direct line between the dreamy pop of yesterday and the raucous nu-gazers of the present exists almost in its purest form here, on Boston slow-rockers Galaxie 500’s sophomore release On Fire
Historical prevalence aside, whatever it may be, On Fire
is not one of those appreciate it for the significance
albums; it’s an absurdly solid LP, jam packed with hooks, killer guitar riffs, and just the right amount of wispy reverb. New Zealand native Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski all high school friends, later began playing together while attending Harvard; the familiarity is palpable. They work off one another brilliantly, as the albums instrumentation plays so well, far beyond it’s ethereal production, the timing is superb. Wareham’s psychedelic jangles of guitars riffs float so seamlessly into ripping solos because of the consistent surfy beats (or walls of sound) that Yang keeps, all anchored down by Krukowski’s classic jazz style. This classic rock heavy instrumentation does nothing but accent all the brilliant studio flourishes and atmospheric quality On Fire
possess. Overall airiness aside, the persistent harmonica on “Leave The Planet” the double tracked acoustic guitar in “Victoria Garden” are great touches -- then there’s the whole (kick ass)sax solo on “Decomposing Trees.” At a time, and in a genre, where the farthest you’d step away from your pedals is maybe
to a few more pedals or a keyboard; these were pretty ballsy moves. Ones that paid off in full, the tunes are amazing and a lot of that can be attributed to these successful experiments, and serious holds in classic rock, jazz and psychedelia. Essentially the first expansions of the sound before it “peaked” but On Fire
proved there was more to dream pop than initially met the eye. When given some more classic pop structure and production, along with the airiness and cataclysmic fuzz provided a liveliness to counter act the subdued nature of the music -- the juxtaposition basically works to perfection.
This is of course mostly because of just how well this album is played, along with all the aforementioned solos, and sweet rhythm Wareham is a beast of a vocalist. To be fair (and let us be fair), females generally have the say in dream-pop. No matter how nice Kevin Shields sounds, or menacing Jim Reid and Mark Gardener might, the hat will always be tipped towards the ladies. Belinda Butcher, Elizabeth Fraser and Rachel Goswell just kind of sound better in the context of the music. Hell if anyone is going to let Dean Wareham know that, as his effervescent wail is the crux of Galaxie’s music, amidst all the haze and distortion, and well unwashed vocals, he still molds to the hazy instrumentation as though they were one. Which is of course classic dream pop etiquette, but it’s almost like the band ascertains it by simply doing the exact opposite of what they should be. His metaphorical anecdotes and musings on the bore of modern society and plague of selfish cruelty in it are mixed reasonably clean, but still adhere to the walls of fuzz like Bondo. Which is good, considering that it probably would have to be that way to work with this album; everything is so tightly knit. If one bit didn’t fit, if one second went awry it seems like the entire thing would be derailed, and its just that sense of chaos that plays so well into the serene nature of On Fire
and really is it’s strongest merit. One of the many on an album that is not only compulsively listenable but also filled to the brim with hidden hooks and gems just waiting to be found via your replays. Not one moment is boring, not one guitar strum or drum smash wasted, which makes the whole journey to find all these hidden treasure
so worth it in the first place.