The Telescopes: Third Wave

Terry Sawyer

The Telescopes

Third Wave

Label: Double Agent
US Release Date: 2002-07-30
UK Release Date: 2002-07-01

In high school, my friends and I would organize music buying trips to Detroit as badges of our disaffection from the choke chain constraints of growing up in rural Michigan. It was during the height of what was dubbed the "shoegazer" movement and none of us could get enough of that effects pedal witchery, guys that looked a six-pack away from buggery, and vocals that sounded weightless, breathless and drowned in light. One of our favorite challenges was to get stoned to the point where we could practically hear our brains turning into freshly milked Rice Krispies and then try to decipher the lyrics which were alternately brilliant or insipid depending on how much we were willing to hear (i.e. rewrite) them.

Like any critical phenomena "shoegazing" did not always accurately describe the bands thrown in its amorphous net. Such categories make matters worse in that they spur A&R gremlins to comb the streets for any and every band with a washed-out sound and a guitarist who could make woozy feedback without acknowledging such pedestrian details as an audience. Grunge, for example, killed itself in the exploitive mediocrity of its omnipresence on the airwaves. And, of course, one of the most unfortunate aspects of the labeling of "sounds" is that music critics are obsessed with their stash of "cool", one of the few currencies available to those perpetually in search of a curve to be ahead of. Consequently, as fast as "shoegazing" was heralded for its beauty and entrancing soundscapes it was duly panned for its lack of big-balled rock 'n' roll machismo and resigned to the recycling heap where all our outmoded tastes temporarily vacation. If there was ever a band that deserved not to be lost in the fray of a poorly constructed reviewer's device, it's The Telescopes.

On their early singles and records, such as 1989's Taste they were by no means somnambulant Brits of a feather. Songs like "Precious Little" although vaguely dreamy, were hardly soothing, and much more in the vein of early Jesus and Mary Chain or Spacemen 3's barely reined cacophony. During their tenure at Creation Records, they gradually stripped away the feedback walls, leaving a psychedelic core smoked over in unexpected layers of jazz. Culminating in flawless songs like "You Set My Soul" from their second untitled 1992 LP, the Telescopes had broken away from any tangential connection to shoegazing by becoming a band Marlene Dietrich could take drugs to. After an eight-year hiatus and returning with only two of the original members (Stephen Lawrie and Jo Doran), their entrance from exile provides a mixed bag, both beautiful and gratingly dull.

"Cabin in the Sky", the album's opener, reminds me of every single reason I loved the Telescopes. Stephen Lawrie's voice has a soft, cunning snarl to it that honey pours over a ghostly piano riff and velvety bass. This sort of deep world descending vibe is exactly what made previous outings so warmly encompassing. From here the album seems to break into two different types of songs: those that combine elements from their last album within a dubbed-out fog and those songs that diverge entirely into an ambling Boards of Canada, artsy techno vein.

As much as I hate to have fangs, I have to admit that when the album veered into longwinded downtempo territory I was disappointed and painfully uninvolved. "Tesla Death Ray" steals a page from the Air playbook, but a torn, slobbered on one. It suffers like the abominably tedious "You and I Are the Foxboy Noises" from a directionless series of loops and a flailing sense of ambiance. Many of the more conspicuously techno tracks plod with a false sense of momentum, like the sonic equivalent of a dead body falling down a hill. "Moog Destroys" criminally cribs outdated video game noises and throws them in with a randomly chucked in collection of other sounds to create the album's most unlistenable venture. Chopped into more merciful lengths, they might make great indie film scores for moments when bleary-eyed pillheads are about to pass out and die, but they make for quizzically long and pointless listening otherwise. The possible exception would be "A Good to Place to Hide" which combines striptease flugelhorns and bass that plunges like a neckline with the paranoid ramblings of what sounds like Elvis (speaking of pill poppers).

Having said that, Third Wave contains just as many tracks with beauty pooled as thick as night. "When Nemo Sank the Nautilus" opens with sonar blips and sounds like the slow fall of a submarine. Stephen and Jo's vocals harmonize with tentative ease and travel into the song seemingly by osmosis. "Winter #2" brings in dirgy Rachel's like strings to create a wintered song with a breathtaking, heavy gravity to it. "The Atoms of the Sea" successfully mates the cleft in this record by combining the best elements of their techno turn with the filterless slink of the old Telescopes. What's most striking on this track is the way the vocals ebb into the song and seem to dissipate like scent. These tracks alone make the album essential for cold comfort autumns sprawled out on the couch looking for a little scratch of solace.

No surprise that after eight years in the mad mad wilderness, The Telescopes have not come back with a simple nostalgic sequel to make me reminisce about the days when I all I had to do was get stoned and sharpen my sense of hipness. They are, after all, a band and not a jukebox. Third Wave maps out a different path which is certainly to be expected from a band that had already morphed from blistering noise crooners to tripped out lounge act practically between gigs. For the most part, I'm glad they've emerged from a decade's cocoon even if their new sound sinks and soars in equal turns.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.