Review Summary: Still gazey after all these years
The last ten years have seen arguably the three biggest names in the original shoegaze scene reunite and release albums of new material (My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride, if it needs to be stated). Drop Nineteens’ reemergence with the release with Hard Light
fits into a trend, then, even if the Boston band is probably best classified within the second tier of the genre’s ‘90s acts.
This group’s place in the shoegaze history (besides being one of the more significant American additions to the annals) rests almost entirely upon the shoulders of their 1992 debut LP, Delaware
. I’m not sure any claims of “overlooked classic” in regards to that record are merited, but it’s a solid one, bringing together gentler melancholy strands with noisier tendencies in a way that may not result in the most coherent album, but ends up as a strong and memorable offering nonetheless.
With that in mind, Hard Light
is probably a more consistent and well-executed example of the album format than its well-regarded ancestor, but it’s also unlikely to fully satisfy fans of the latter. Drop Nineteens’ comeback consistently hews towards the more accessible, melodic, and softer side of the group’s sound, not afraid to embrace muscular rock stylings from time to time, but definitely avoiding the rougher edges which Delaware
frequently rubbed elbows with. In short, this latest effort is an easily likable product which should earn the band a fair amount of interest from younger fans enamored with the shoegaze resurgence of recent years, but it doesn’t exactly capitalize on their earlier legacy.
For me, as someone who enjoys this sort of easy-going shoegaze/dream pop/Britpop hybrid, repeated listens have left me with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Hard Light
’s eleven songs are, without exception, well-crafted and enjoyable, providing whatever you’d ask for in this style of music. But
, a few songs aside, this is also a record which fails to quite take the next step to true excellence, a somewhat disappointing turn of events.
Some discussion of the highlights, then… You can’t argue with the opener (and title track), its sedate presentation laying the groundwork for the album’s mostly low-key vibe and flow. Then there’s “The Price Is High”, one of the most out-of-the-box tunes here, its crunchy riffage and thumping beat irresistible. And, I’d be remiss not to single out the penultimate track, “Policeman Getting Lost”, a The Clientele cover - simply a brilliant choice, a doubly-overlooked gem, as a lesser-known triumph within an overlooked band’s discography.
The thing is, though, that while Drop NIneteens’ rendition of “Policeman Getting Lost” is gorgeous, it doesn’t quite measure up to the original’s wispy beauty while also not truly transforming the song’s presentation as the best covers often do. As such, it feels fitting for Hard Light
as a whole, tantalizingly close to excellence, but settling for the tastefully decent instead. Closer “T” echoes the same feeling, a sprawling seven minute track which seems set up for the band to absolutely let loose, but instead serves as a decent song which satisfies more than it dazzles. All told, this is an album which will almost certainly be enjoyable if you like kinda hazy, kinda ethereal, kinda catchy indie/alt thingamajigs, but it’s also an album desperately lacking the hint of an edge which would give the total product further potency. Even so, it’s a solid comeback from another crew of aging shoegazers, just don’t set your expectations too high.