"Oh yeah... Great groove we've got going in this club... Loving the fuzzy, transcendent guitars and gliding vocals... Hello, what's this? Hello shoes, my my you're looking good tonight, glad I wore you for the show. That's a great knot your laces are tied into, and the worn out stripes on the side look very cool..."
Is this what's going through the mind of a shoegazer during a show? We may never know, for the shoegazing alternative rock movement of the early 90s was quite enigmatic. Characterized by fuzzy, lush guitars, serene vocal harmonies with pinches of noise-rock, shoegaze started out in Britain and got a lot of underground buzz. The term shoegazing came from bands that were so into their performances live that they simply stood there and stared at their shoes. Certainly an ambitious style, hell the shoegaze defining album My Bloody Valentine's Loveless
(which I've noticed almost every other shoegaze album is compared and measured by this album, here will be no exception) cost the band over $500 000 and bankrupted their record label. Finally the hype of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive
came to America, and these Bostonians were liking what they heard. Unfortunately, due to certain musical events in the early 90s in the US *COUGHNIRVANACOUGH* Drop Nineteens never caught on. Really nothing else did either at that time, even MC Hammer, the rapper with god-like skills and heart of gold was starting to lose popularity. A crying shame.
Of course you can't blame everything on Nirvana, the better reason for Drop Ninteens' lack of success is Smashing Pumpkins. They blew up in 1993 coming from the Indie label Caroline, the same label as Drop Nineteens. Ironically, the Pumpkins blame Nirvana for not making it big earlier. Similarly to early Smashing Pumpkins, Drop Nineteens veer off in dissonant directions with their guitars. The layers of swirling fuzz provided from all three guitarists makes a strong foundation for the heavy songs, but the riffs are generic and don't vary much throughout the album. One of the guitarists occasionally throws in a poppy fill to spice up the guitar section, but that's not particularly redeeming. The result with the guitars is an uninteresting version of My Bloody Valentine mixed with the aggression of College Rock bands. Drop Nineteens focus more on achieving a fuller sound than technicality. Surprisingly, the bass is what stand out the most, it's prominence in all the songs, giving a richer quality to the music. The trio of fret benders occasionally ditch the shoegaze approach and go all out on noisiness, resembling the fathers of grunge, Sonic Youth and Pixies, rather than the fathers of shoegaze. (Plus Fish Dream)
is a short burst of chaotic chords and pick scraping, showing their American dissonant influences, as well as their British shoegazing influences.
The classic shoegaze combination of girl/boy vocals is on the album, but higher in the mix, not sounding as timid or buried as other shoegaze bands. Usually they sing alone on songs, Delaware
is split between songs sung by male vocalist Greg Ackell and female vocalist Paula Kelley, sometimes they join together, Kevin Shields/Bilinda Butcher inspired, to make a good team. Ackell is strong and prominent, but his voice is rather dull, Kelley's songs are usually the better ones. Even though her voice is high and soft, the songs she sings are jolted with originality and energy. Where the sprawling music lacks, Kelley gives a breath of intensity. Ackell gets his spot in the limelight too, in the extensively noisy Reberrymemberer
, where he screams his ass
off under a wall of fuzz and distortion.
The album also has it's quiet moments, where Drop Nineteens ditch the twisted noise, and innocent acoustic guitars come in. They fall flat though, the melodies aren't convincing, and the playing is simple. Without doubt the album's moment of brilliance, Kick the Tragedy
, a 9 minute song of borderline progressive rock that uses the quiet-loud formula in Pixies fashion. The same progression of blissful noise goes on for 5 minutes while an echoic siren type sound floats through the mix, when finally the music dies down and Kelley begins a spoken word section accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Not a particularly complex song, but probably one of the best chill-out songs ever.
undoubtedly has its moments of greatness, like Kick the Tragedy and Winona
. And there are moments of great melody and energy Madonna cover Angel
, and the incredibly catchy Happen
. But the rest of the album doesn't hold anything too interesting or special. It was bad timing of Drop Nineteens to emerge just as Britain was starting to lose interest in shoegaze, and the US was full-blown grunge-mania, if they continued for more than two albums, we could've expected great things from these guys (and girls). The album reminds me of a less vibrant and less complex version of My Bloody Valentine. Delaware
doesn't show what the band probably is capable of, as many debuts are, but is worth checking out for anyone interested in the shoegaze movement, or even just late 80s Alt/Indie.