Blisscent 1 by Various Artists (Review)

As a fan of all things drone-y, blissed out, and dreampop, this one hit the sweet spot.
Blisscent 1, Various Artists

I’m just a bit miffed at Blisscent Records for sending me this compilation. How did they know that I’m a sucker for any music that revisits early ’90s shoegazing, for all manners of effects pedals, gauzy vocals, and other atmospherical-type things?!? They must have done some serious research before sending this compilation my way. As a fan of all things drone-y, blissed out, and dreampop, this one hit the sweet spot.

So why am I perturbed? I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, let’s talk about the comp, shall we? Asobi Seksu starts things off well enough with “The Words Live Longer,” with a decent wall of fuzz and poppy bassline. Even as the song begins to take shape, everything’s still slathered in noise and distortion, washing over the vocals like frothy (yes, “frothy”) waves. An intriguing start, but the comp didn’t nail me until Skywave hit with the aptly-titled “Fire.” This song erupts with a staccato beat, guitars that chime with more feedback than melody, and echoing, lethargic vocals that just drip “coolness,” Brothers Reid style. Take that BRMC!

Au Revoir Borealis contributes “Waldorf Theft Song” from their lovely “Tienken” EP. Although a fine song, “Tienken” features several other tracks that really show off this group’s potential and is well worth your time tracking it down. Malory’s “Space In Your Mind” lives up to its title, abounding in drifting guitars anchored by a propulsive beat and amorphous male/female vocals.

But these are just whetting your appetite for one of the comp’s real gems, Sunstorm. This is the sort of music The Verve put out before they broke up, reformed, got sued, and broke up again. Psych-rock with an emphasis on hypnotic basslines and meandering, fuzzed-out guitar melodies that never seem to steer wrong. And over it all floats Jerrold Balcom’s haunting croon, beckoning you to “take a leap of faith” like he’s already reached the other side and is waiting for you to follow him… just before he’s buried in a wave of guitar wash and tape manipulation.

After Sunstorm, it takes a few tracks for the comp to recover. Lorna’s “You Me Barcelona Now” strikes me as 2 different songs; half of it consists of beautiful, airy vocal harmonies, before they get sidetracked by driving guitar riffs that feel lifted off of some second-rate emo track. And Alcian Blue’s track just feels a bit clumsy. The recording quality feels lacking, resulting in the whole song sounding rather flat. Unlike Skywave, where the lo-fi recording actually adds to the over noise assault, here it just makes what might otherwise be a decent song rather plodding.

However, there are no such complaints with Lovespirals’ “He Calls Me.” Formerly know as Love Spirals Downwards, Lovespirals features a new vocalist and a slightly different direction. Gone are drum and bliss textures of Flux, instead hinting back the group’s earlier releases, such as Ardor. Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar work and light drums provide the perfect setting for Anji’s beautiful vocals. Even more interestingly, the lyrics point at the song’s more spiritual origins: “His voice is like a song/I hear the melodies/So I learn them, write them down/So I can play them/Let them understand you are in everything we do/Show them your glory.”

Francis 7 initially struck me the wrong way, mainly due to the vocals, which seemed a bit too strong and melodramatic. Yes, it’s an odd criticism to make, but they seem out of place with the guitar textures providing their backdrop. I keep expecting to hear some waifish girl sigh ghostily from behind those guitars, rather than Omar Cuellar’s powerful voice upfront.

But the comp saves one of the best tracks for last, and provides some of the best evidence that the spirits of Slowdive and Chapterhouse still live on. Remember that chill you got when you first heard “She Calls” or “Autosleeper,” because you knew this was the kind of music you’ve been waiting all your life for? Well, I felt it within the first 30 seconds of “Red Shift,” as soon as the glorious cascades of guitars poured out of my speakers.

So why am I perturbed, you ask again? Well, after being bowled over by this comp, I went to Blisscent’s website, hoping to score some more info. Amidst soundclips from the comp and background info on the label (which originally grew out of the Blisscent mailing list), I found this troubling little statement… “Blisscent II will be released early next year. Don’t be surprised to see a band or two team with Blisscent Records in 2003.”

You read that right… I have to wait until 2003 before I hear anything else from these guys! I just hope they throw a few tidbits my way before then. Come on, guys… help a brother out!

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