Tears Run Rings “In Surges” / Full song by song review
Deep Space Recordings
Release date: December 2, 2016
The album is up for pre-order now:
As one of many raindrops in the mighty wave of sound-texture/noise rock bands we collectively call the shoegaze scene, Tears Run Rings (which was the name of a Marc Almond song) is a name that hasn’t come around as much since their last album six years ago in 2010, “Distance” (a good name considering the gap!) That one and especially their first LP, 2008’s “Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never” cemented a good presence for the band in the blossoming post-90s return of the once-obscure sub-genre. With softly washed away vocals, those of Laura Watling and Matthew Bice, and almost softer guitars stretched into vast landscapes of reverb, they brought to bear some of the classic hallmarks of their obvious influences in a glittery and fresh way, retaining the style without falling into a trap of stagnant creativity that has plagued some of the “nu-gaze” bands of the 2000s.
Now, onto the future… and with “In Surges”, the band’s new creative output, we can trace the sonic path forward that they’ve taken since “A/S/S/N” & “Distance“. I hear a sound, in fact many layers of sounds; the first four songs uphold the Tears’ traditional clash of shimmering ambience vs. a quietly shrieking distorted guitar, with the occasional single tremolo chord in the background. It’s the same classic sound, at first, with more of an ambient momentum than their last works perhaps, and instantly recognizable. The first track, “Happiness 6” (Parts I-IV appeared scattered throughout their previous albums) heralds especially this more ambient landscape tone, as guitars soar through an endlessly reverberating sky. The second track “Belly up” comes on like the usual dancing melodic-fuzzfest that they’ve proven to be so, so good at concocting. The soft voices guide us through the song and all the noise, accompanied by high-speed drums that would do My Bloody Valentine proud.
With their third song on this album, “Things have changed”, we hear something to break up the comparisons and expectations, which was pleasing especially considering how much I would love a part two to their first album, but we needed some renewal in the band’s work. The song opens with the atmospheric layers of chords that seem to be the trademark of this album, however here, they tone things down to a placid crawl, accented by strobing, muted drums and an acoustic guitar. A delicious phaser sound swims by calmly, reminding me of Ride’s “Polar Bear”. The vocal pairing on this song, with subtle poppy “oh-ooooh~” in the chorus, turned something otherwise very chilled out and spacey, into something fresh and more present. I would compare what they’ve done with this album (despite the clear shoegazing intents) to what Beach House has done for the dreampop/shoegaze genre: bringing it back into popularity and choosing to hearken back to the greats, yet remaining their own independent spirit.
And just like that, we have an album that blooms into what seems a resurrected Tears Run Rings. We get two beautiful and jagged-yet-lush ambient ballads, “Part of the Glass” and “Green Lakes”, the latter especially drones and dances as a field of flowers that move like water in invisible winds, before fully crescendoing into an impressively roaring crash. By the seventh song (out of ten), they’ve succeeded in crafting a truly heavy and beautiful beast of an album from the best elements of their trademark tones and wispy songwriting. It enters your mind slowly, with a winding kaleidoscopic tunnel of vintage dream pop, (think the Cocteau Twins or This Mortal Coil) vibrantly chorus-heavy guitars, as our two singers chant mournfully over regrets of love and (perhaps) failure. (Hard to tell, let’s be honest!) Sometimes you think you catch a few words here or there, and suddenly you realise you can’t understand 80% of the words slipping by, yet at the same time somehow you understand completely. That’s just something about this style, where musicians have made the decision to use the heavy processed sound of their voices and decided to use them as yet another texture in the dreamy wave of sound. Some call it lazy, some might argue its genius and take away the emphasis on singing along to a catchy melody.
Regardless, the song, “Destroyer” plods along in the style of the Cocteau Twins, with the jangly guitar treading along with a delayed drum (machine?) as other overdubs of guitar float past it. And bleeds perfectly into the next song, which to me felt like a channeling of an indie, grungy parallel dimension version of this same band. “Something you Can’t Hide” is beautiful, sharp and fun despite its melancholy vocals. Impressive, because all the members of this band reside in different cities (Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco) and collaborate via the internet (hence all the chaotic energy of cohesion I felt). All the parts were recorded in separate studios, but fit together like puzzle pieces when assembled.
As the song comes crashing down, the tone shifts downwards as well again, coming to a sleepwalk in the penultimate track, “Sine Wave Sleep”, which still manages to bravely keep the listener going forth unto the finale. It provides us with floating layers of distorted and stringlike, sustained guitars merged like a still whiteout blizzard: threaded together by tambourines and beautiful harmonies. All in all, a pleasant comedown before the final track, the 7-th part of “Happiness”, heralded by what sounds to this reviewer like an angelic flock of soaring drones and paulstretched expanses of crystalline strings (try fitting all that into a studio)… slowly they fade away and the rest of the song is revealed, just as slowly. This finale piece brought to mind heavily Stars of the Lid, Ulrich Schnauss, and other watery ambient texture-makers, and while they state themselves that this album was influenced by the coldness and indifference of our world, it feels more as if these are four passionate and jaded romantics who are still trying – despite all the ignorance and lack of colour & joy – to reach out a pleading hand to the world they live in.
Wesley Breard is an diehard LA expatriate and musician currently residing within the urban woods of Olympia, Washington. He records under the name Hikikomori, and is a longtime follower of the LA underground music cult. He is obsessed with home-recording wizardry, sound texture, and the magic of romance.