Flaxen by Bethany Curve (Review)

Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, the 6 songs on Flaxen represent some of the finest shoegazer/dreampop I’ve heard in God knows how long.
Flaxen, Bethany Curve

My first exposure to Bethany Curve’s expansive sound came several years ago when I heard their debut album, 1996’s Skies A Crossed Sky (Unit Circle Rekkids). But even on their debut, it was apparent that the band was more than capable of creating massive drifts of dense, melancholy sound, akin to Slowdive meets The Cure’s Disintegration. However, the band sort of fell off my radar until just a few weeks ago, when I heard a clip from their latest, Flaxen.

Taken from the album’s opening track, “The Automatic,” the clip revealed a slowly spiralling column of sound, full of glacial, Labradford-esque guitar tones. I checked out a few more clips from the band’s website and promptly ordered the CD, which has rarely left my CD player for any significant amount of time since the disc arrived last week.

Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, the 6 songs on Flaxen represent some of the finest shoegazer/dreampop I’ve heard in God knows how long. The disc literally overflows with effects-laden guitar-based atmospherics that are the very dictionary definition of “ethereal,” “angelic,” and a whole slew of adjectives that I use far too often on this site. And somewhere far below the guitars are Richard Millang’s reverbed vocals, barely discernable from the heights to which the band’s atmospherics take you, and yet still adding a noticeably melancholy tinge to the proceedings.

The EP slowly coalesces with the aforementioned “The Automatic,” which glides on a solemn note before the drums really kick in and guitars grow more insistent and driving, building up to a cascade that should leave any fan of Slowdive’s Just For A Day absolutely giddy. The fluttering guitars of “Jettison,” anchored by an achingly graceful bassline, create a heady atmosphere that summons every shoegazer cliche — and injects them with new life.

One of two instrumental tracks that dot the EP’s horizon, “Omaha Beach” eschews any song structure whatsoever, and instead dives headfirst into the band’s tidal atmospherics. Guitars can be heard chiming faintly in the distance, only to be obscured by clouds of pure drift that resemble Hilmar Örn Hilarmsson’s splendid Children of Nature soundtrack in both tone and sound. “Sleep” again hearkens back to the glory days of Slowdive et al, with graceful guitar filigrees that manage to pierce the band’s rainy atmospherics the way sunlight might pierce a stormcloud, with delicate shafts of silver gleaming through.

Each and every song on Flaxen is a keeper, but when taken altogether, they make for spellbinding listen. This is one of those discs that leaves me torn. Part of me wants to listen to it sparingly, lest it somehow lose its magic, and yet another part of me wants to wrap myself in these sounds as much as possible. That being said, I succumb to the latter far more often than not — and the album has yet to lose any of its lustre.

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