Soundtrack in my head: Soundpool, “Brand New Dawn”
Every now and then, I’ll do a video search of certain genres of music, just to see what is out there. One of my favorite genres is a category known as “shoegazer music,” which is rock or pop music characterized by layers of long, liquid, reverberating tones that create somewhat of a dense, otherworldly, and often remarkably beautiful “wall of sound” effect.
It could be argued that the Cocteau Twins pioneered the sound starting in the early 80’s and in my opinion, were the best and most creative musicians of the genre. But nobody really referred to it as a genre until a number of bands seemingly influenced by the Cocteau Twins came along in the late 80’s and early 90’s, causing music critics to come up with the term “shoegazer.” Ride, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Chapterhouse were examples of such bands.
Actually, probably no band from that time ever felt comfortable with the “shoegazer” moniker, perhaps because they didn’t want to be categorized, and also perhaps because it was a rather pejorative term–if it wasn’t originally intended that way, then it certainly became that way in the early 90’s. It seemed like the music press at that time was goose-stepping to grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden. Other forms of “alternative rock,” be it synth-pop, Manchester pop and shoegazer music were being pushed aside because they did not “rawk” enough.
But recently, it seems like there have been more bands keeping the shimmering sound alive. Last year, I discovered a Japanese band called Hartfield that has kept the sound going. And in the last couple of weeks, I’ve discovered a nice little gem of a band named Soundpool.
One downfall of some shoegazer bands is that the music sometimes gets too lost in liquidy layers of sound. There has to be something in that sound to grab onto—otherwise the listener will feel like he or she is drowning in noise. Fortunately, this is not a problem for Soundpool.
Their album, “On High,” is a remarkably diverse effort. Sixties pop is a big influence here, and there are plenty of effective pop hooks to catch the listeners’ attention. At a couple of points, and particularly on the track “Span The Universe,” they sound a little like Stereolab, except with more warmth. Other times you can hear Petula Clark or Brian Wilson influences if you listen closely enough to the tracks “Polyphony” or “All of Eternity.” They also insert a few interesting thirty-second tracks to round things out, such as “Be” where the members are chanting the word “be,” or “Choir,” which recalls the opening chorus of voices on Brian Wilson’s “Smile” album.
One thing I like best about them, though, are the lyrics—very positive, sunny and bright. Not all shoegazer bands are known for that—some, like My Bloody Valentine, can go into quite dark places. But it’s hard not to sing along to “sunset, sunrise, the sun in your eyes, revolves love endlessly,” or “hear me, we’re gonna be o.k.” There is also a bit of social commentary in the song “Millions&Billions&Trillions,” which talks about “dollar bills and stars up in the sky, profits made and tears that people cry.”
Except—and this is my only criticism of the album—it’s a bit hard to hear the lyrics. I recognize that there can be an aesthetic quality to making the vocals barely audible above the sound, and making the singer’s voice sound more like an instrument unto itself. This has been pretty common among “shoegaze” bands. But in this case, the words are far too good to bury, and I think the songs would be even stronger if lead singer Kim Field’s vocals were more prominent—there’s nothing to apologize for with these lyrics.
The album stays strong throughout, and picks up energy through the last five tracks. It says a lot about an album when listening to it lifts your spirits and leaves you in a good mood.
My favorite song is actually in the video below, but it’s not on any album or available online as far as I can tell. “Brand New Dawn” is a perfect song for April as it talks about the transition from winter to spring. The video, filmed somewhere in New York, shows both winter-like and summer-like weather, and I know that both New York and Wisconsin have had both types of weather this month. Could Soundpool end up being Brian Wilson’s favorite shoegazer band? Watch the video and decide for yourself.