New Zealand outfit carries the fuzz-rock torch.
Ten seconds into the debut album of the Golden Awesome, a fuzz-laden pop-shoegaze-grunge outfit out of Wellington, New Zealand, and you know exactly what you're in for: layers of syrupy guitar distortion, harmony female vocals, middling chug-a-lug tempos and fuzz enough to drown in. That's exactly what you get, too, with occasional side trips that never stray too far from the formula. And you know what? It all works just fine.
There's something to be said for finding what you're good at and sticking with it. Album opener "Autumn" sets the template, both with what it includes (see above) and what it does not -- extended instrumental solos, tempo shifts, proglike multi-part song structures and the like. Vocalist Stef Animal has a limited range, but delivers the goods in a languid, whispery moan that floats above the prevailing noise clutter like oil atop choppy waves. As often as not, those vocals are layered to sing harmony with itself, which only adds to the overall sense of being wrapped in a warm, silky blanket.
Subsequent songs introduce minor variations to the formula. "Highlife" takes down the tempo a notch, while "Blue" dispenses with percussion altiogether and relies on Animal's heavily processed vocals to create something more akin to a tone-poem than an actual song. "Sooner and Later" introduces ambient distortion and floating waves of feedback to offset what might otherwise be a too-sugary pop confection. To their credit, the band seems to recognize the limitations in which they are working, both sonically and in terms of their singer's range, and they strive hard to overcome them. For the most part, they succeed.
For the most part. "The Waves" suffers from an unmemorable melody and an overweening sense of I've-heard-this-before, while "Ruby" is simply too bland musically to make much impression. Energy is a key component in music like this, and when it flags, the effect is immediately noticeable.
The good news is that the successes far outnumber the failures, at least for listeners favorably disposed to this sort of female-fronted fuzz-rock. At six and a half minutes, the mini-epic "Where to Begin" is considerably more ambitious than most other songs. With its opening midtempo shuffle disguising a variety of sounds buried far down into the mix, the tune establishes a hypnotic drone before launching into overdrive -- if "overdrive" is the right word to describe those languid, dreamy vocals. It's this tension between the instrumental grit and vocal sweetness that creates much of the tension in these songs.
The record wraps up with "A Thousand Nights and One Night", another meaty tune that goes on for some time. It's an appropriate way to end the album, as its rhythmic repetition and overdriven distortion both reflect what has come before, and ramp it up a notch before letting it go. There's no shortage of overdriven, fuzz-tastic shoegazey bands out there but, speaking for myself, I'll keep listening to them as long as they have somewhere interesting to take me. The Golden Awesome do just that. More, please.