Review Summary: "Hey, are you still making that B-movie...?"
I’ve never fallen in love with For Tracy Hyde. One of the bands of the moment in some circles, they’re essentially a case study of several of the things the pop arm of J-indie tends to do really well: expansive shoegaze tones, exuberant female vocals, and more reverb than you can botox a yokai with. Their last two albums New Young City
were both good
on a number of levels, but barring a handful of highlight tracks, they suffered from bloated tracklists, largely recycled songwriting patterns, and a shortage of highlights. Every second chance I gave them only seemed to confirm that while the band were riding on a great sound, they couldn’t write memorable songs to save their life. But there was promise
and - more importantly - shiny, pretty melodic textures galore; for all their take on the album experience was unfocused and homogenous, I always felt that if For Tracy Hyde got their act together and plotted out a coherent journey rather than an endless reiteration of the same above-average dream pop song, they could deliver something really impressive.
turned out. On the face of it, this is the first time the band have written an album proper; all these tracks bear a distinct relation to one another, and they live and die largely on their own terms. They do not sound the same and are not mutually interchangeable; praise be. The band have finally untangled the strands of exuberance and bittersweetness that underpin their sound, articulating each in its own space. The run of the wistful “The Nearest Faraway Place” through “Orca”’s fleeting gazehaze into the peppy rocker “Sister Carrie“ is a textbook showcase of this, but it runs through the whole album. Nice. To sweeten the deal, it retains all the elements that made the band so appealing to begin with: “Interdependence Day (Part I)”, “Radio Days”, “Desert Bloom“ and “Heavenly” are borderline perfect snapshots of their core sound, trading off jangle pop, shoegaze and power pop against one another with veteran seamlessness and landing instant highlights. Things are up a level even from their previous bests “After Dark” and “Mizu to Nemuru”, thanks to vocalist Eureka’s performance; she’s stepped up big time, now driving the songs on an even footing with her bandmates’ dreamy swirlforce. All things considered, this is For Tracy Hyde’s least forgettable and most adventurous outing to date; frankly, it has no business not being their best record.
Well, okay there. There’s an issue here: the band’s gorgeous soundscapes are as thoroughly cinematic as ever, but thanks to frequent instances of disjuncture, the bigger picture here isn’t a particularly coherent one. They were clearly drawn to a more snapshot approach to songwriting, and the results are awkwardly piecemeal at times and hilariously wayward at others; despite being built from literally the most inoffensive styles of music in existence, Ethernity
some manages to set off a grade-A whut
moment every other track. Some of these are ballsy (dropping a country-styled blissout complete with American vocals and banjo twang on “City Limits”); some are endearingly off-whack (kicking of with a liberal cover of the Twin Peaks theme and parenthesising it (Theme For Ethernity
); most are bemusing in a neither-here-nor-there way (pasting Obama’s Fourth of July speech to an instrumental entitled “Interdependence Day (Part II)” and following it with a premium slice of underbaked J-kitsch in “Welcome to [****ing] Cookieville”). The first few double-takes are prime material for good grins and easy fun, but by the end of the album you’ll be wishing this thing could just hit its damn stride and stay there for a couple of tracks. Every time I try to draw dots between these songs and their changes of tone, I end up with more questions: is this a full concept album, and if so what about the narrative begged for this kind of structuring (and, it bears repeating, why
the Twin Peaks theme)? How did the grunge slugger “Chewing Gum USA” even make it on here? Where did the ultracheese of “Where the Slowboat Goes”’ triumphant saxophone come from? What, for the love of all things sweet and shiny, did anyone do to deserve the lyric California koibito-tachi no kuni
stuck in their head? Oh, and that album art? Yeah.
Whether or not Ethernity
makes any sense as an album is beyond my qualifications to determine (read: it absolutely doesn’t). Whether or not it’s a worthwhile listen is an easier matter: where For Tracy Hyde were once synonymous with take-it-or-leave-it indie shimmer, here they have something for everyone. It might be a celebration of disjointedness, but it's impressive enough at its best and passable enough at its worst to be worth scavenging from; anyone accustomed to picking through uncontoured dream pop or shoegaze albums en masse might even find this refreshing. I think
that the band are ultimately a fair bit stronger for having made this record, but if it’s convinced me of one thing, it’s that I no longer trust my read on their artistic sensibilities in the slightest. As long as they can keep their reverb sparkly and their melodies sweet, I guess that’s beside the point. Fingers crossed they keep chasing that bliss. Maybe they’ll find it one day. Bet.