Valet’s first album in seven years captures an element of first-generation shoegaze that many new-school groups too often miss.
In a recent interview with FACT magazine, Valet’s Honey Owens was asked about any interesting instruments that might have been used in the making of Nature. Her answer was kind of funny, but also revealing:
“We got really obsessed with tambourine. And I was releasing after the fact how important tambourine has been in the history of music. It’s just something that’s there and you’re like, ‘yeah, the tambourine,’ or whatever. But you don’t notice it until you start really focusing on tambourine in your own music, how there’s tambourine in all your favorite songs – pop songs or rock songs. ‘How did I miss the tambourine this far?’”
True to that observation, the tambourine on Nature is similarly sly. Its presence is not entirely obvious until it has been pointed out, but once it has you realize that, yes, there it is shaking away all through “Transformation”, and tapping out the measures on “Signs”. Valet’s first album in seven years isn’t overly beholden to the history of music that Owens was speaking of, but it was made with a measure of appreciation not just for the sound of their influences, but for how those sounds were achieved. Being a largely homegrown project, though, Valet didn’t have access to the same type of generous studio environments that gestated the kinds of records – the usual ‘90s shoegaze suspects – that Nature takes its most overt cues from.
That is one of the subtle differences that distinguishes Nature from the rest of the neo-shoegaze variety pack. It echoes the original era not because Valet painstakingly assembled all of the right gear (though maybe they have a few of the same pedals laying around), but because they’ve captured something less tangible about the original version’s vibe. The infinitely drifting opening guitar chords of “Sunday” and the weightless, tangerine-hued “Lion” evoke a certain feeling more than they directly reflect this-or-that Slowdive track. Valet also aren’t merely copping delay settings from the Thames Valley lot, they’re steeped in influences that those groups revered as well. The results are songs like “Signs”, which weds the Velvet Underground’s proto-drone with the kind of shoebox diorama psychedelia that artists like Jacco Gardner do so well.
A couple of years after releasing the hallucinogenic and exploratory Naked Acid in 2008, Owens set Valet aside to pursue acid-tinged house music with her partner Rafael Fauria as The Miracles Club. The story behind Nature is that, after the birth of their child in 2013, Owens began writing a collection of guitar-centered songs that were much mellower in tone than the club-suited sounds her and Fauria had until then been focusing on. Thus, the re-birth of a kinder, gentler, more concise Valet; one that includes Fauria as well as drummer Mark Burden, who had previously collaborated on a few tracks with Owens on Naked Acid.
Nature isn’t an obvious ‘parenthood’ record, but the connection between Owens subconsciously gravitating toward tidier, mellower arrangements and raising her first kid would seem clear enough: babies are exhausting. They also, hopefully, go to bed early, so you have to keep it down after a certain hour. It might be interesting to see how a ‘parent life’ influence might evolve across further Valet albums, as it has, for instance, throughout Julie Doiron’s music. Even if Owens ends up retiring the project again, Nature stands a good chance of being one of those great one-off records fans still talk about years down the road.