Today we’re constantly warned about our digital footprint to the point of cliche. These warnings are not without good reason as horror stories abound where something a person said, clicked or liked online come back to haunt them years later. We can only shake our heads at some of the ridiculous, pointless or downright stupid things we did in those innocent, trailblazing years of social media a decade ago.
When you’ve had a social media profile for such a long time, you pick up significant flotsam and detritus. A Facebook friend with someone you’ve only met a couple of times and won’t see ever again, a page you hit like on because of one mildly bemusing post, a page to a concrete business because one of your mates asked you to. Most of these relics cling to us forgotten, unseen, mostly benign and waiting for the day when we finally clear out our profiles like we’ve always been saying we will.
I say all this because last month a distant memory of my digital footprint reared its way back into my life in a most unexpected way.
On a Sunday evening, I spent a few minutes scrolling mindlessly through Facebook as I made myself a tea and was greeted with this.
Ghostwood, a Sydney shoegaze band, was releasing an album. At first glance, this wasn’t particularly exciting news. In our current world where we are forever drowning in content, another band releasing an album was just another brick in the wall. But what made this announcement different from others was that Ghostwood is a band that had the briefest of moments in the sun in 2007-2008 before disappearing for more than a decade; unseen, unheard and entirely forgotten. Just another band to fall victim to the chaos of young adulthood.
I saw Ghostwood at the Northcote Social Club a decade ago. I’m fairly certain they were supporting Mercy Arms, another Sydney shoegaze band that fell apart too soon, but the memories all bleed and blend after so long that I can’t be sure. What I do remember is being mesmerized by what I saw on stage. Atmospheric, driven and powerful. This was a band that hooked you in and didn’t let go. I remember buying their EP straight after the set ended and playing it for weeks on heavy rotation. This was a band that seemed set for big things.
In 2008, Ghostwood relocated to Britain to play shows and record an album. The social media posts dried up and eventually, I moved on assuming the band had come to an end and its members moved on to the next stage of their lives.
Needless to say, that June 2019 post took my by surprise. At once, the memories of that show and that EP came flooding back to me and I eagerly anticipated listening to this record they had dubbed The Lost Album.
Upon its release on Spotify a few days later I was impressed by how fresh this lost album sounded even though it was recorded years ago. The tracks from the old EP were there. “I Am Overcast” still teased with swirling guitars and pounding drums while “Red Version” still creates an increasingly tense soundscape that cries for release up until the final seconds. I expected these tracks, regardless of their quality, to grab me for no other reason than the pure nostalgia hit of remembering a time in my life that almost feels foreign to what I am now.
What I didn’t expect was that the previously unreleased tracks to hit me with the same emotional punch. “Pink Panther” with its ethereal and moody instrumentals and forlorn vocals mesmerizes as it washes into your skin. Closing tracks “Haha1996” and “Great Inventions” are more upbeat and irresistibly catchy.
As someone who is constantly fighting an internal battle over their love/hate relationship with shoegaze, this album is a reminder of what the genre can offer at its finest- beautiful, distorted soundscapes that are carried with an urgency of purpose rather than meaningless noodling and pedal switching.
Hearing such a stellar album ten years after it was recorded, inevitably leads to questions of what could have been. This is normal but what’s more important is appreciating that this album even exists to begin with and that hopefully through the power of the internet it will find its way into hearts of people who will appreciate its craftsmanship regardless of whether or not they saw Ghostwood in 2007.
Tennis System – Lovesick
This is furious noise
It is impossible to read music that taps into the shoegaze lineage without finding mention of My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain. While the aforementioned bands are certainly the epicentre of the genre, bands like Los Angeles’ Tennis System aren’t all too interested in being just another page in the Kevin Shields songbook. Unlike the genre’s progenitors, Tennis System only graze the often plodding, overly moribund nature of shoegaze, and instead find more inspiration from uptempo punk urgency. Lovesick, their third album, is a culmination of what the band call their “putting it all on the line” mentality, wrapped in fuzzed-out, loud guitars, breezy percussion work and that ‘let’s go’ punk attitude.
Songs like “Alone” and “Esoteric” come cut from the same mold that crafted early emo band Cap N’ Jazz; manic, loud, frenzied, while opener “Shelf Life” digs deep into the fuzzy, distorted heaven of Jawbox meets Burning Airlines. The song itself feverish sudden changes, one that mimics what vocalist/guitarist Matty Taylor told Flood Magazine about the song’s “journey of realization, denial, and finally acting upon things”. It’s true then that songs on Lovesick owe more to J. Robbins than Kevin Shields, but it is not to say the album is not without its more shoegaze moments. It’s the moodier soundscapes of “Cologne” and almost whispering “Fall” that paint from that brush.
The album’s strongest outing is the terrific “Turn”. It is a song that is a well constructed effort combining early emo and elements of shoegaze with the furious noise of guitar powered alternative/punk, packing together all the best qualities of the band in alluring freneticism.
As the title track closes proceedings, the listener is left with a sense of aural delight that came with albums like Loveless, or Trail of Dead’s brilliant Source Tags & Codes. It doesn’t mean to say Lovesick is a trailblazing record, but what it does mean is that the album’s tightly wound energy and furiousness explodes in euphoric delight- even if it is temporary. In the song “Lovesick”, Taylor sings, “please don’t let me burn out”… and perhaps, with this much aural euphoria, it is inevitable. But as the saying goes, “it’s better to burn out…”
Pom Pom Squad – Ow EP
The latest EP by this Brooklyn four-piece is beautiful vulnerability
Brooklyn “quiet grrl” band Pom Pom Squad may have a cute moniker and description of their sound, but like their riot grrl brethren that it comes from, it’s anything but tame. Pom Pom Squad is a four-piece led by vocalist and songwriter Mia Berrin, who on their second EP, have taken the twinkly sounds of Rilo Kiley and Mitski and injected it with the grungy, manic energy of Hole and Bif Naked and the distorted, punk urgency of Bratmobile.
Ow stands out from the opening “Ow (Intro)”, a song of delicate heartbreak that is both pensive and biting. It’s mostly just Berrin and her guitar, sparkling in a glow of Midwestern emo-esque strings and her voice. The song is beautifully wistful when it sings “he says he wants what’s best for me” and biting when it comes back and says “they all say they want what’s best for me / but they never try to be the best for me”. It’s from this you hear the strength of the EP; that when it gets a little brooding, melancholy, pained, it’s also gorgeous, vulnerable and definitely unafraid to show the listener honesty and character.
In songs like “Heavy Heavy” and “Honeysuckle”, Pom Pom Squad get a little dirtier, a little grungier, amping up the distortion and sludgier percussion work. The hazy bellowing of “Heavy Heavy” adds to the angry introspection of the song; its lines of “It’s getting heavy heavy / Telling everybody that I’m fine / I’m feeling heavy heavy does it mean / I wanna fucking die?” painted by lusciously loud guitar work that would make Steve Albini smile. “Honeysuckle” takes on a similar pained look inside the mind but with a more fuzzed-out, alternative-rock veneer. Berrin’s lyrics come across as vividly as she sings “If I’m nothing without you am I anything at all?” It’s songs like these, with words like these, that hint of comparisons between Pom Pom Squad’s captivating allure with that of Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland during their heydey.
“Cherry Blossom” taps into that beautiful sorrow again, plugging into the aura that is painted when it is just Berrin and her guitar again. It’s almost hypnotic at times, and just as quickly as the tension and the magnetism builds, it ends. The anger of the album works because unlike angst, it’s calculated and targeted, leaving Ow as much of a substantial outing as it is growth from their 2018 EP Hate It Here. The only real downside to Ow are some moments like on the closing notes of “Cut My Hair”- a song that builds up to its crescendo with more dazzling vulnerability but ends a little quicker than it ought to. In truth, that’s the only real con of the EP, that when the orchestral fade-out of “Owtro” howls away, you’re left searching for more, with only repeated listens as your respite. But in the end, what could be better for an artist you’ve recently discovered than to get under your skin and leave you wanting more?