Music

Longwave: There's a Fire

Joon Kim

Yet another band of State-side Anglophiliacs, this time pilfering wholesale from the corpse of early '90s shoegazers. Thanks, but no thanks: we've been there, done that, and paid the import prices far too many times.


Longwave

There's a Fire

Label: RCA
US Release Date: 2005-06-28
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Fuck me! Has it been 20 years already? Or did the Nostalgia Wagon make a wrong turn somewhere, skipping past the airy aesthetics of Galaxie 500 and all the drugged-out Madchester kids in favor of ramming straight into the tail-end of British shoegaze? For chrissakes, I thought the arbiters of all that is Pop and Culture were still milling about at the feet of one-off Factory revivalists and PiL-core fashionistas. Did I miss the memo or something? Are we already due for a third-tier Britpop revival?

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Longwave is an anomaly; perhaps the band is merely the vanguard for an encroaching horde of Anglophilic kids armed with delay pedals and bad haircuts. They might even be ahead of their time, in a strange, roundabout, and rather asinine way; after all, if previous patterns in the rise and fall of cultural trends are to be believed, acts like Slowdive have another good five to seven years before they're hip again, never mind all the post-gazer Britpop also-rans that followed in their wake. We're living life on the bleeding edge, folks! Let's hope no one notices that the edge is a bit dull and the blood smells a little familiar.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I were to accuse Longwave of mere mimicry; after all, our Favorite Albums were inevitably inspired by someone else's Favorite Album, which was in turn inspired by yet another Favorite Album, threading an intricately recursive pattern of theft and re-appropriation that spans entire millennia. Still. If you're going to cop whole-handedly from someone else's playbook, make sure you leave all the rubbish behind, or at least have the conviction to believe that you're current take on a decades-dead trend is fresh. And seriously? I'm tempted to say that Longwave have neither the talent for the former nor the will for the latter, and the resultant mess that bubbles up in There's a Fire is neither innovative nor exciting; rather, it's a bit boring.

I suppose part of the problem is that Longwave never really escapes the shadow of their ostensible influences, often sounding like a band still trying to find its own identity. Songs like the title track and "Underworld" sound like a less dynamic Ride, boring the listener to tears through the repetitive use of three or four simple guitar figures; similarly, "Fall on Every Whim", and "Tell Me I'm Wrong" too often end up aping Swervedriver's MO, sans the relentless pop sensibility. It's fairly obvious that Longwave wants to make the grand, dreamy guitar-pop albums of their forebears; however, their song structures are derivative, the hooks aren't really catchy enough to take hold, and their use of guitar atmospherics and textures occasionally sounds forced and unnatural.

Nonetheless, every band is quite capable of pumping out a few good tunes, no matter how mediocre they might be; and when Longwave is on, they do a more-than-admirable job of accurately quoting from the Big Book of All Things Britpop. "River (Depot Song)" is a scorching, propulsive track that could easily be mistaken for a forgotten b-side from Nowhere; elsewhere, "The Flood" ends up doing a passable impersonation of the Verve, circa A Northern Soul. But the definite highlight of the album is "Next Plateau": bright, bouncy, and centered around an inexorably catchy acoustic guitar riff, the song easily conjures the same zeitgeist seized by bands like Blur and Pulp back in the mid-'90s. The melody itself is as effortlessly memorable as anything off of Parklife or Different Class, and the track's deceptively simple mechanics belie its surprisingly dynamic structure; it is perhaps one of the few songs on the album that doesn't drag, breezing by with the studied ease and lasting impact of the best pop songs.

Maybe I shouldn't be too surprised that an album like There's a Fire is making the rounds these days; it seems that all the State-side kids want to pilfer wholesale from our transatlantic brethren these days, and being British (or at least pretending to be) is a hot commodity right now. And who knows? Given enough time, Longwave might actually make a decent album one day, or at least make a record that can holds its own rather than relying on the crutches of its inescapable influences; hell, give the corpse-diggers a few more years to catch up and the band might actually be hailed as visionary. But for right now, I can't honestly say that the band is anything more than slightly above-average; they're locked too firmly into a genre that's been wholly consumed and creatively re-imagined by others, and they lack the talent (or the resolve) to escape their self-imposed boundaries.

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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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