Snowdonnas: Over Now

[23 April 2003]

By David Antrobus

An all male band from Texas named Snowdonnas? Probability-wise, that’s up there with Dubya admitting he might have made an error going into Iraq. And yet it’s true.

Even better is that this is a fine debut. For those lonely nights when you just didn’t, couldn’t, connect with someone, when the rains started to fall, mirroring your mood, or after that mythical arena show when the howling noise still seems to ring from the concrete supports, echoing in the hollow spaces between the thinning homebound crowd (or between your ears), this warm noise offers solace of sorts.

Think My Bloody Valentine. Think Catherine Wheel. Think Jesus and Mary Chain. Those ‘80s UK shoegazers are undoubted touchpoints for these Texan newgazers. The equation is simple: crushing noise + lush melody = a flushed kind of beauty.

Making Fort Worth their home, the band is comprised of Timothy White (guitars, vocals), Niki Saukam (drums), Otto Bahn (bass), and Bysshe Mourningstar (keys). Silly references to German highways and dead English poets notwithstanding, it’s the plainly-monikered White who appears to be the musical heart of Snowdonnas, writing all of the songs on Over Now, as well as cascading those incandescent guitar layers and mumbling suitably opaque vocals atop the band’s overall sound.

“Edison” opens with an electrical charge. Buzzing and sparking, drums falling over themselves to be heard, the song sets the admittedly narrow tone for the remainder of the record. Obscured, yearning vocals hide (and occasionally peer out from) between the interlaced guitar melodies, above somber early-Cure-like synth figures and mid-tempo loping beats. The use of delayed guitar sheets on songs like “Burn” only solidifies that shoegazer impression (and lyrics such as “you only have yourself to fear” further compounds it). One caveat. As pretty as the songs are, volume is key here. For best effect, turn them up—way up. And after the caveat, a quibble: White’s vocals, pleasant though they are, occasionally find the right note elusive, oscillating flat and sharp for mere split seconds before finally landing it like an ungainly figure skater. It’s somewhat surprising that this wasn’t ironed out in Rory Phillips’ otherwise meticulous production.

This is not in any sense innovative music, but it’s admirably sticky-sweet and rock-exuberant, like simultaneously having your ears filled with cartoon “Hunny” and being bowled over by that damned likeable stuffed tiger. I sense the mood aiming its sights toward mournful introspection, yet coming across far more joyfully askew than that. Slyly saturating such flagrantly melodic pop songs as, say, “Rocket Cherries”(really, you could pick almost any example) in gushing sparkling falls of distorted guitar still tends to militate against authentically deep import.

As generically similar as some of these songs are, however, the title track requires a moment of reflection. Beginning with a bouncy New Order bass line, alarm call synth, increasingly rabid drumming, and that deceptively affecting voice weaving wispily amid the other (liberally applied) elements with a kind of urgent ennui, “Over Now” both rises above and yet paradoxically symbolizes the entire album. Whatever genuinely morose sentiments inform it, the sheer pop gorgeousness of its expression tends to invite more elation than enervation. “Your Love (Death of an Astronaut)” closes out with a spacious, ambient opening that bootstraps itself into an e-bowed acoustic strum and yet another memorable vocal hook (“Could you stay with me, eternally / Would you falter would you be there / When I leave the, leave the ground”), eventually dropping away and fading to the lonely flapping vacuum of dissipating distortion.

This is a strangely uplifting record. As much as Over Now attempts to engage the coldness at the margins of our emotional relief maps, it still manages to demonstrate real warmth in its actual portrayal. The map is clinically accurate, no doubt, but thank heavens for the lush terrain itself.

Snowdonnas have something here. It remains to be seen whether they’ll break from the well-worn paths made by the shoes of others, or whether they’ll simply stay gazing at them.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/snowdonnas-over/