It remains somewhat confounding to me that shoegaze has been able to maintain popularity through all these years. The genre always seemed earmarked to become a mere footnote fad in the great colossus that is pop culture, mainly because it never seemed prone to versatility. Yet here we are in 2011 and at least a couple of bands a year enter their hat into the shoegaze ring--often to great effect. Even related forms, such as hazy dream-pop (Beach House) and chillwave (Washed Out), have ensured a quality output (both critically and amongst the legions in the blogosphere) from that fuzzy umbrella of shoegaze. This year already we’ve seen a solid release from homage-mongers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; but unlike Belong
, The Horrors’ Skying
isn’t trying to resemble Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine so much as a bastard-child (in the best way possible) between those two '90s college heroes and the post-punk, garage scene of Britain in the 1980s.
Such an amalgamation of sounds is embedded in The Horrors' history: the switch from 2007’s ho-hum, gimmicky garage-punk of Strange House
to the warmly received shoegazy 2009 release Primary Colours
is territory well enough tread as to be in danger of experiencing OK Computer Syndrome. Beyond this minute point, that history of the band can fortunately be left by the wayside, allowing any discussion of Skying
to avoid pedantic musings on how Faris Badwan sounds less like a madman, or how the band just sounds more, you know, serious. Instead we can focus on the evolution of sound between Primary Colours
, an album title so apropos: the fuzzy atmospherics, trumpet-like synths, droning keys, and swirling guitars make the album sound huge. But at the same time the record finds the band embracing their pop side more than ever--so “huge” never becomes “soiled histrionics.” Even the long jam cut, “Moving Further Away,” avoids overt psychedelia by locking into a jaunting groove that makes the nearly nine minutes of the track’s runtime feel brisk.
fairs best in this mode too, and the band does well to avoid straying too far from the path of brisk, groove heavy tunes. And as for the dangers of having the songs blur together with such a steady tempo? The Horrors provide a surprising amount of diversity, mostly due to the voice of frontman Badwan. At times it sounds high-reaching and grandiose, such as on the catchy chorus of “I Can See Through You,” while at other turns he grasps low and foggy, such as on the lead single “Still Life.” Only the gorgeous closer “Oceans Burning” drops the tempo down with vibes and guitar sprawl that simply washes the album away. A great album it proves to be as well; Skying
manages to hone a sound that moves beyond simply being “another shoegaze” album and becoming one of the best releases of 2011. If Primary Colours
still left any doubt, Skying
makes it certain that The Horrors have moved on from the shadow of the (unfortunate) title of being NME darlings and into a realm where their future releases become something to mark on the calendar.