Tripwires name Neil Young, Yo La Tengo, and Talk Talk as influences. Listening to Spacehopper, the debut album from the quartet out of Reading, England, those are not necessarily the first names that come to mind. The album was recorded in Brooklyn but couldn’t sound farther from it. Tripwires are a shoegaze band whose sound has also been filtered through the more arty strains of 1990s indie rock and Britpop.
They are good at it, too. Though they were still in primary school when their forebears first roamed the earth, Tripwires are a good fix for those who still get a rush out of the electrically-charged space travel rock’n'roll of Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel, and the like. They are more than just a rehash, though. Instead, Spacehopper is a nice distillation of influences. It has its own identity, though the elements that combined to form it are so readily apparent they bear mentioning.
Shoegaze does not seem to be such a dirty word these days. As far as it goes, the title track opener leaves little mystery as to what you are in for. A steady, quiet pulse slowly becomes awash in a swell of smoldering guitar effects and simple yet ominous chords. By the time its three and a half minutes are up, “Spacehopper” has ignited into a deafening, thrilling buzz-bomb. “Love Me Sinister”, though overlong, is a pretty study in mood-setting and generally pondering things while ring modulators and sundry other guitar effects gurgle and hum. Meanwhile, “Tinfoil Skin”, with its elliptical, dubby bassline, shuffle rhythm, and breathy vocals, could literally be a lost track from Chapterhouse’s Whirlpool album. That is, until it reaches its ungainly, ear-piercing extended coda.
So what of Tripwires’ and Spacehopper‘s own identity, then? Well, the band are clearly not stuck in a circa-1991 vacuum. The album takes in elements of the more atmospheric, emotive, sometimes even muscular indie rock which shoegaze, in its own way, helped inform. Several songs surge with the streamlined guitar power reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins in their heyday; or maybe, from Tripwires’ perspective, Silversun Pickups. At the same time, “Shimmer” sways along melodically and with a distinctly British sense of grandiosity that recalls the glammy pomp of Suede, while “Paint” is an unabashed yet totally effective anthem that surely takes Muse as well as 1990s Radiohead into account.
Spacehopper even has a couple unexpected, if not exactly shocking, twists. “Fold me up and sew me at the seams/ Stick me to your body like a leach,” sings Rhys Edwards on “Feedback Loop of Laughter”, amid a combination of warm acoustic guitars and odd effects. The words and delivery recall vintage Placebo, as does the heavier, snarling chorus. “Under a Gelatine Moon”, with its squishy synth-like noises, stomping rhythm, and gurgling underwater guitar, is essentially psychedelic rock, but with sensitivity in the vocals and delivery, as Edwards croons, “I wanna lie with you/ Without moving.” It doesn’t get any more shoegaze than that. Still, “Catherine, I Feel Sick” conjures a swirling, cathedral majesty that transcends any tag, and “Slo Mo” is the kind of melancholic, slide guitar-featuring comedown album closer that seems obligatory from psych-minded Americana bands these days.
If all this seems like a game of “spot the reference”, well, in a sense it is. But it is a fun and rewarding game. And when Tripwires finally get around to that late-period Talk Talk sound, on “Wisdom Teeth”, it becomes clear this is one influence the band still have to grow into. Overall, though, the songs and production help render Spacehopper more than the sum of its parts. Another big factor, maybe the most important, is Edwards. His nasal, piercing voice deals in a kind of studied, no-nonsense melodrama that is, again, quintessentially British.
There are a lot of “neo-shoegaze/dreampop” bands out there. Spacehopper proves Tripwires more effective than most at stepping out from under that umbrella without abandoning it. It is likely one of the best rock debuts you will hear in 2013.