Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seaspin- Reverser EP & Dios- We Are Dios

At least once every couple years, it seems as though I come across a band that can best be described with a sentence that begins: "Like My Bloody Valentine, but...." For example, M83--at least initially--were like My Bloody Valentine, but more electronic. Well, Seaspin are like My Bloody Valentine but....hmmm...but what?

I think I'll go with, like My Bloody Valentine but not as intense. There's a borderline-suffocating quality to Loveless, a constant totality of sound that is overwhelming in a good way. Reverser, however, falls closer to Isn't Anything: still shoegazer-y, but also of a piece with the clarity and bliss of dream pop. It helps that Seaspin have clear female vocals mixed right up front rather than burying them in the mix like a lot of these kind of bands would. And call me crazy, but the singer reminds me of one of the women from Luscious Jackson.

Songs like 'Give Yourself' are almost slavish in their devotion to the My Bloody Valentine formula, so how much imitation is sincere flattery versus how much it's shameless theft will depend on your particular moral compass. Personally, I love this kind of music so it's hard for me to be too mad; it's not as if every random dude and his cousin is forming shoegazer/dream pop bands. Besides, the title track to this EP shows Seaspin might be more than just a pretty good follower of a truly great band. It has strong hooks and lightens the ear shattering guitar walls enough to let the band's melodic side shine through. This track could easily pass for out-and-out indie rock, and if the rest of the EP had less shoegazer-y noise I might be writing about how Seaspin sounds like Sleater-Kinney or Rainer Maria instead.

Deerhunter and Seapin both draw huge influence from My Bloody Valentine, but there's a true sense of originality and great songwriting with Deerhunter. Much as I like this EP, I find it hard to recommend enthusiastically because I like it more for who it sounds like than what it is.

With the press write-up that comes with their album, We Are Dios, the band happily declare:

dios do not sing about cars, surfing, and/or high school.
dios sing about ridiculousness, illicit substances, and going crazy.
CONCLUSION = dios resemble the Beach Boys of Smile, not “Fun, Fun, Fun."

An interesting way of putting things, but one that doesn't hold up in a court of (music) law. From the legendary bootlegs circulating for decades to the eventual completed project in 2004, Smile may have been the most ambitious and overtly druggy album that the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson ever worked on, but it was still a very focused and tight pop album at its heart. Nothing about it is nearly as weird and stoned as you may have imagined before hearing it, and by both today's standards and the standards of albums that actually came out during its initial release window, it's a pretty tame and accessible release. Despite his pot and acid induced/increased madness, Brian Wilson was still a brilliant composer with a laser-like focus for melody and tunes.

By contrast, Dios are overtly trying to be sloppy and stoned with their music while hearkening back to the psychedelic head trips of the mid to late 60s. None of the songs seem to fit standard chorus/verse/chorus structures, often drifting off into other songs or studio chatter/ambiance.
This approach works for the band as often as it doesn't, and We Are Dios is the sort of release that is neither good nor bad enough to warrant much of a reaction. At its best moments--like the early Flaming Lips-esque 'Toss My Cookies', as well as the consistently strong vocal harmonies throughout and the closing track 'It Will Feel Good', which sounds like Deserter's Songs era Mercury Rev--the album reveals a band capable of some great things.

"Capable" is not the same as "achieving", however. If Dios have any greatness, it is mainly in their sound and approximating the greatness of other bands. Their songwriting is never strong and consistent enough to be memorable, and all of the best songs and moments end up reminding you of other bands. Dios are good, and We Are Dios can be almost-great at certain times, but it is neither very original nor truly exceptional.

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