On their striking debut LP, 2007’s self-released In Her Gentle Jaws, Brooklyn’s Depreciation Guild combined various sounds of the moment—eight-bit blips and beeps borrowed from the rising chiptune scene, fuzzed-out guitars from the shoegaze revivalists—to create a swirling brand of indie-pop all their own. In the intervening years, like-minded artists have seen their stars rise, most notably, Depreciation Guild frontman Kurt Feldman and guitarist Christoph Hochheim’s other band, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. In light of this fact, it would have been all too easy for the Guild to either ride the Pains’ coattails or lean closer toward a well-defined, trendy aesthetic (chiptune, shoegaze, chillwave, etc.). Yet on their sophomore effort, Spirit Youth, the Depreciation Guild largely choose to go their own way, with mixed results.
On first listen, the most surprising thing about Spirit Youth is how much lower in the mix the programmed beats and melodies sit. Content to cede the title of most rock-oriented band in the chiptune scene to fellow New Yorkers Anamanaguchi, the Guild largely deemphasize their electronic underpinnings here, burying the hacked Nintendo cartridge that once figured so prominently in their songs (not to mention their interviews) under layers of guitar haze. Unlike the crunchy guitar tones favored by many shoegaze acts, however, Feldman and Hochheim employ layers of bright, jangly chords that wash gently over, rather than confront, the listener. Pair these calming guitars with Feldman’s androgynous coos and starry-eyed lyrics and you get an album that hews closer to the Field Mice school of post-C86 dream-pop than just about anything else since.
Take, for example, the fittingly blissed-out opener “My Chariot”, which sounds a bit like My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep”, were all of its twisted, tremolo-heavy chords bent back into shape. “Crucify You” is anything but morbid, with its layers of breezy, echo-laden melodies and soaring synth lead. And lead single “Dream About Me” is about as dreamy as you might expect, filtering wistful melodies through a layer of gauze. Two of the album’s final tracks, “Spirit Youth” and “Through the Snow”, feature louder, more driving rhythms but even so, manage to feel fairly soothing, as far as indie-pop goes.
With Spirit Youth, the Depreciation Guild seem to be following a trajectory not unlike the one traced out by M83: start by pairing loud guitars with blunt electronics and harsh beats and then proceed to file down any sharp edges until you arrive at something far subtler. There should be little doubt as to whether or not the Depreciation Guild have managed to refine their sound here—the question is if, in so doing, they’ve managed to obfuscate those qualities that made them stand out in the first place. In an age of increasingly mannered indie rock, Spirit Youth sounds more like the rule than it does the exception, a fact that can’t help but feel at odds with the punk rock ethos that first drove indie-pop pioneers like the Field Mice to get in touch with their sensitive sides.