The record cover serves as a mission statement: shoegaze isn’t dead. Two pairs of black patent leather shoes stare back at the viewer in a hazy black-and-white blur. Match that to an album with thick swathes of fuzzed-out guitar that wrap themselves sinuously around these poppiest of song structures, overlaid with Henrique Laurindo’s ethereal vocals. Keyboards both support the songs’ basic structure and serve as incidental punctuation for the sonic palette. Laurindo plays guitar and does the lion’s share of the singing, while Lulu Grave pilots the keyboards and lends her equally dreamy voice, for the most part, to unexpected interludes and harmonies.
The ingredients are simple, but as with fine cooking, simple ingedients can provide a gourmet meal. Elaborate embellishment is unnecessary if the basic ingredients are fresh and wholesome enough. That is the case here: the songs are lively and surprising and need no further tweaking. It helps that thay’re played with conviction, too.
While the sound is hardly what one conjures up from the phrase “guitar band”, the guitar is very much the dominant texture here. It is used like a blunt instrument on opener “31st Floor” before kicking into a jittery shuffle for “Come Together” and heavily processed rumble for “What Took You So Long”. “Naissance de la Folie” slows the tempo a bit, with acoustic strumming in place of superfuzz bigmuff and Grave’s organ doing the heavy lifting required to propel the song. “Sally O’Gannon” features a melody reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Rain”, but with a catchier chorus and distortion enough to drown in.
Most songs here are in the three-to-four minute range, with a couple topping five. Classic pop structures, in other words. “On Yr Own” and “Falling Slowly”, among others, are more or less perfect pop songs featuring catchy melodies, simple-but-effective chorsuses, and chord progressions that just feel right. Think of Elastica’s first record: this is nobody’s idea of envelope-pushing popular music, but it rocks convincingly and the songs will stick in your head for days.
“I trip inside / I trip inside / I trip inside your wired mind”, Laurindo declares in a typically oblique lyric from “31st Floor”. The singer’s fairly one-note subject matter parses countless facets of interpersonal relationships, generally involving a degree of heartbreak and wistfulness. “I do not care if you have me there / Not even I can make you see things through the light”, he intones on “Looking Glass House”, just before the distortion kicks in to melt your headphones. Really, though, any song from the set would serve as an equally apt example of his lyrical concerns. “I threw myself into your sea / No words can set me free”, declares album closer “The Great Division”.
Ultimately, the lyrics are only one contributor to the overriding vibe of the record. The heartache and uncertainty expressed in many of the lyrics are undercut by other elements. Rolling tempos, lilting melodies, and chirpy organ all combine to create a sense of positivity—a kind of optimistic angst, if you will.
Yep, shoegaze ain’t dead by a long shot. This excellent debut shows that there is plenty of life in the genre yet. With any luck, the Tamborines will be around for a while to explore it for us.