Review Summary: "Kristina Esfandiari is Miserable."
Shoegaze is not a genre that is particularly parched for new purveyors. For the past 30ish years, shoegaze has been a subgenre of indie rock that has stayed more-or-less the same, and seemingly attracted similar types along its life. Steady and clamorous drums; unobtrusive but key basslines; and, perhaps most importantly, the dynamic duo of fuzzy walls of guitars and nearly-buried, melancholy vocals. Those last two ingredients are what really defines the sound. Think My Bloody Valentine, or Slowdive, or even more recent bands like Asobi Seksu or Ladytron, which add electronics into the mix while keeping the general tenor of the game the same.
Now, even though it doesn’t need
new fighters in the ring, that doesn’t mean shoegaze is completely dead and tired. It’s also a word that has lost a lot of vitality, or even meaning, in the years since its peak. It’s one of those kiss-of-death terms sometimes that makes someone not even give a band a chance because they think it’s just going to be a bunch of blaringly strummed walls-of-noise and indecipherable vocals. Kind of akin to slowcore, it’s a genre that comes bearing a reputation, but one that is worth looking into when new people join the fold.
Kristina Esfandiari is not exactly new to music, though. She has been with the band King Woman for a few years, lending her emotive, deep, velvety voice to their crunchy shoegaze-leaning rock music. But now, Esfandiari's solo project has released its debut LP, and her nom de plume couldn't be more apt. Miserable, and its debut album, Uncontrollable
, tread in the same aqueous, dense, gazing rock as many other bands in the fold, but Esfandiari has a way with making her longing, her despair seem more palpable, relatable, and ultimately more interesting than many of her brethren have in a while.
A look at the lyric sheet before I spun the record left me wondering if I was getting myself into some aural misery porn, as if Michael Haneke had directed a rock album. But what comes off perhaps too sad on paper really comes to fruitful life on record. Esfandiari’s richly textured, yearning voice is not quite as buried in the din of guitars and drums and keys as many vocalists in the field, although there is some mystique left in tact, of course. But most of the time, her sorrows are painfully clear in both text and sound. Lines like “Pitiful, we couldn’t recognize a perfect thing / And I can’t breathe at all” (“Violet”) and “You say I’m so passionate / Pristine or a total mess” (“Stay Cold”), or “Is salt water filling my lungs up"” (“Salt Water”) ring tragically true, practically melting out of the speakers with the music. Even a pining, diaristic refrain of “Why do I feel so sad" Why do I feel it"” from “Stranger” becomes something shattering in Esfandiari’s hands.
At times, the album does becomes slightly too opaque, whether lyrically (“Violet / Was all around / Without you / Fading out” (“Violet”) or musically (“Stay Cold”), but the mysteriousness of the record is still one of its finest traits. A record this crunchy but pretty, direct but poetic, angular but fluiod, deeply sad but also moving, deserves to be heard outside of the preconeptions of its genre. And make no mistake, this is a sad record, filled with regret and broken hearts and profound confusion – the catchiest, best song on the record, “Oven,” lives and dies on its almost profane refrain of “You said he doesn’t care / I guess he doesn’t / Stick my head in an oven ... I know that he used to love me.” The liner notes even begin with a could-be-punchline: “Kristina Efandiari is Miserable.” Even the one slightly hopeful song, "Best Friend," sounds as downtrodden as the others. As said, her music could not have a more appropriate title, and with albums like Uncontrollable
, I hope things stay Miserable for a little while.
Final Rating: 8.0
Key Tracks: Oven, Violet, Saltwater, Saudade