Blisscent 2 by Various Artists (Review)

As great as Blisscent Records’ first comp was, this second volume easily surpasses it.
Blisscent 2 - Various

It was about a year ago this month when the first Blisscent comp showed up at my door. Despite being the very first release from Blisscent Records, it was an accomplished slice of underground shoegazer and dreampop. Despite the genre’s popular heyday having been about 10 years ago in pre-Oasis Britain, Blisscent 1 showed that the influence of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, and countless others was still alive and well, inspiring many more bands to revel in the glories of effects pedals, wispy vocals, and walls of sonic bliss.

In my Blisscent 1 review, I made some smart-alecky comments about having to wait another year to hear anything from Blisscent, and how perturbed I was at that. Well, a year has passed, and true to their word, Blisscent 2 showed up in the mail. And to put it succinctly, it was well worth the wait. As great as the first comp was, this second volume easily surpasses it.

Silverman’s “Ctrl Alt Delete” opens the comp with a heartbreaking ballad in the vein of The Tindersticks meets Massive Attack, as Martin Williams and Anna Dennis sing of the bitter end of a relationship. The music, consisting of sparse pianos and delicate guitars, provides a beautiful bed for the duo’s vocal harmonies, as Dennis’ breathy vocals soar above William’s deeper voice.

A lot of people have been anxiously awaiting the upcoming-yet-perpetually delayed album from The Autumns (Nocturnes and Subades). The comp gives fans a taste of things to come with a demo version of “Slumberdoll.” While it doesn’t display the more experimental sound the band has been claiming to pursue on the new album, it’s still a gorgeous piece of ethereal pop, beginning with a bouncy pop sound not unlike In The Russet Gold of This Vain Hour before moving into the heavier atmospherics of The Angel Pool. At nearly nine minutes in length, it’ll hopefully be enough to tide fans over until the new album comes out soon (hopefully). Either that, or it’ll simply tease them to no end.

While Autumns fans might rejoice at getting to finally hear some new material, they might also rejoice at the shimmering pop of Midsummer. Although “Silent Blue” is far poppier than anything The Autumns have recorded, you can hear the same sense of romanticism and musical filigree, and the song is highlighted by Dale Bryson’s breathy, aching croon.

Those lamenting the passing of Lush will be placated by the tracks from Stars of Stage and Screen and Scarling, as each band seems to tap into a different side of Lush. The former captures the dreamier, more fragile facet with “Silver Memories,” with Daughtry Carstarphen’s pretty vocals harmonizing over ghostly synths. On the other hand, the latter’s delightfully twisted “Band Aid Covers the Bullet Hole” captures Lush’s edgier, darker side. Vocalist Jessicka sings of brain surgery and mental imbalance in coy, breathy tones, her voice marred by stabs of buzzing guitar, before adopting a brattier, edgier stance when the song launches into the aggressive chorus.

This brings us to the comp’s finest track, A Northern Chorus’ amazing “Let the Parrots Speak For Themselves.” I’d heard a few songs by this band in the past, and I have to admit that while being fairly decent, they didn’t really jump out at me. However, this song just floors me every time it plays. Over the course of eight minutes, the band covers a lot of sonic territory, from haunting vocal harmonies to delicate flutes and strings to massive, chill-inducing guitar climaxes. However, even as they segue between elements, the song never once loses its beauty or sense of tragedy and sorrow. Ultimately, it’s just one of those tracks that leaves you feeling grateful every time for just having been able to hear it.

Several bands that contributed to the first comp also make appearances on Blisscent 2. One of Blisscent 1’s highlights was Skywave, whose fuzz-drenched slabs of noise recalled early Jesus and Mary Chain. They’re back this time with “Here She Comes.” While far more uptempo than “Fire” (their track on the previous comp), it still shows the band’s obvious love for drenching their lo-fi recordings with layers of fuzz and distortion. Asobi Seksu also return with “Walk on the Moon.” While their Blisscent 1 offering opened that comp in fine fashion, this track is far more impressive, showcasing a more powerful sound that spotlights Yuki Chikudate’s dramatic vocals.

While all of the tracks on Blisscent 2 are, at the very least, good, some do get outshined by the comp’s more impressive moments. Aerial Love Feed’s “Lock N’ Load” seems just a bit, well, hammed up to me, mainly due to the running Dr. Strangelove-esque sample. Color Wall comes close to capturing the same reckless energy of Swervedriver’s Raise on “Restless in 5th Gear,” but not quite. Admittedly, the track has grown on me quite a bit since I first heard it — I think it was the sneering, punk-inflected vocals that initially turned me off — so I could see my opinion easily shifting with a few more listens. Hopewell’s “Contact” — a rendition of the 3 – 2-1 Contact theme — is rollicking enough in a Swervedriver sort of way, but it just feels a bit silly when compared to the songs from A Northern Chorus and Asobi Seksu.

Okay, I really hate to end this review on a negative, critical note because this comp is just too good for that. On the strength of just two albums, and both of them compilations, Blisscent Records have already established an impressive resume. As with the Blisscent 1, this second volume is an exemplary collection of songs that has something for every fan of blissed out music. Here’s looking to Blisscent’s next release, comp or otherwise. While I hope I don’t have to wait another year, I guess I really don’t mind waiting at all if whatever’s next comes anywhere close to Blisscent 2 in scope and beauty.

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