When it comes to shoegaze, there is a fine line between ‘sloppy’ and ‘inspired’. Too much sludgy guitar or syrupy vocals can lead to ear fatigue and even outright depression, discouraging repeated listening. For Melbourne’s Flyying Colors (pronounced Mel-bun), a fantastic song like “Feathers” off their 2013 debut EP exhibited tremendous pop potential. Unfortunately, Flyying Colors and 2015’s follow-up ROYGBIV got bogged down in overdone reverb to the point of being unable to recommend either. Not that they were terrible by any means – just enervating.
Charter members Brodie J Brümmer and Gemma O’Connor have found the sweet spot on their latest release, You Never Know. They’ve added heaps of melody, augmenting shoegaze’s aching coolness to form a potent and satisfying mix. Flyying Colors were a dedicated road act before the pandemic, having toured with Johnny Marr, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Jesus & Mary Chain, and the Black Angels; now they’re busy getting back in gear. “We take touring and supporting our music live pretty seriously,” said Brümmer last year. “Shows are starting up again, and we hope to be touring internationally again soon.” They’re returning to Europe late this summer, with dates in France, Belgium, and the UK.
With You Never Know, we may as well start at the top. The penultimate track, “Modern Dreams”, is exceptional, perhaps the most ear-pleasing song of the year so far. Pastoral keyboards and swirling guitars ferry the listener past the horizon, like Lush at their early 1990s best. Flyying Colors can get spacey too, as in the dream-laden “I Live in a Small Town”, whose robotic verses belie a twinkling yet powerful guitar chorus. The tolling pace of the horror-movie soundtrack “Long Distance” reminds one of a guillotine waiting to fall or perhaps a hitcher on a lonely desert highway, saying the loud part quietly. O’Connor’s gossamer harmonies on the finale “Never Forget” add the perfect closing touch, like a fondly-remembered teacher imparting one final lesson.
For those of us on the far side of youth, “Goodbye to Music” strikes a particularly agonizing chord. According to Brümmer, the song is about hearing loss: “I had neglected my ears over many years of touring, rehearsing, mixing and recording. Writing this song was a way for me to accept that what is done is done and to manage my own guilt spiral.” Hate to disappoint Mr. Brümmer, but it’s not just loud concerts. Reminding college-age readers of their looming mortality is always tough because it should be – what else is youth for? But the cash register of life is constantly ringing: every cigarette, every sunburn, every greasy cheeseburger comes back to haunt us eventually.
As a genre, even well-made shoegaze never quite escapes its baked-in limitations. You Never Know can still get bogged down in droney minutiae, as in the two-and-a-half minute “Oh”, which overstays its welcome by about 60 seconds. “Bright Lights” boasts a memorable riff but falls into a mild repetition trap through overuse – like a harder-rocking Field Mice, who sometimes repeated themselves to excess way back when.
Shoegaze is a resilient style, even if chronically incapable of reinventing itself. Flyying Colors have earned a well-deserved following Down Under by doing it better than most.