I like to think there are still a lot of us out there who are both enamored with reverb-drenched pop rock and keen on seeing that cherished aesthetic expand to a less serviceable MO. In other words, people who are still smitten with the ever-wondrous Loveless, yet still retain a soft spot for the opaque, borderline new age of bands like Slowdive or Tamaryn. The collapsing pop confection has time and again established itself as a sort of ubiquitous feeling, yet there is enough ambivalence toward shoegaze that its reverent practitioners are free to mess with the formula. And when the results are as brazen yet tried-and-true as Sea When Absent, one begins to feel almost grateful for the increasingly marginal standing of the genre.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow are not so much about “to hell with labels” as much as “we all love reverb, but let’s try and raise the bar while we’re at it,” thereby creating a listening experience that pays off to gazers and experimental pop connoisseurs alike. For a band mostly united by a name (its members live far and wide across the globe), it’s a blessed thing that they’ve built any kind of rep, let alone one that comes with real promise to those who’ve paid attention. Each of the last three albums imparted a gripping restlessness that threatened to crack and shatter their candy glass surfaces. In fact, that’s what comes through more each time: a love of maximal, shiny surfaceyness. The core of shoegaze is a sort of melancholic grace, of revelatory nostalgia and naked sentiment. For a long time, obfuscation and intricate pitch-bending were enough to adorn that core. Now that anyone worth their salt is simultaneously trying to be and figure out what it is to live in increasingly diffuse times, it’s important that an artist not nurse their obsolescence. More than anyone in their largely critically forsaken subgenre (and significantly more than on past efforts), ASDIG have crafted something that makes its bones through jubilant, unbridled, messy irreverence.
These 11 tracks buck and jostle their honeyed sonic predelictions to the point of near-silliness. The music would be exultant, anthemic, and vainglorious, but it’s so filled with slippery structural chaos that blissing out and acute vertigo continually vie for supremacy. The last-radio-transmission-of-a-crashing-plane effect on the chorus of “In Love With Useless” (that is also oddly reminiscent of Robert Knight’s “Everlasting Love”) slams home the “feel the pointlessness and do it anyway” sentiment that the title evokes, while the track also spends a lot of its time flexing its intricate, effervescent dream-pop melodicism. It would be reductive to say that Sea When Absent is a marriage of elegance and rawness, as the majority of that lies in its unrefined sugar — so unrefined that the rhythmic hiccups, fidelity drop-outs, and unconventional song structures are rendered equally gratifying.
This is an album that strikes a careful balance between pop and free-wheeling experimentation, but manages to make itself seem unwieldy just the same. But unlike the voluminous unwieldiness of their double album Ashes Grammar, the chaos here is an illusion. The record is a wonder of meticulous technical mastery, never overtly coming on to the listener even as it’s slamming two tons of soaring dream-pop dope into their veins. The wordless hypnagogic chorus of “Boys Turn Into Girls,” with its M83’ed guitar-ringing, plays as exultant as it does a woven-in, slap-happy little portrait of exultation. It’s one of the many moments here that frame that time-honored tradition of existential release (I always picture Björk on her mountaintop in the “Joga” video) with a playful sort of distance. Not to say the emotions are remote, but they seem to be expertly cognizant of their potential banality, as the swarming textures around them refuse to linger for more than several seconds (even the savory quickfix of “Double Dutch” trails off to the sound of vocalist Jen Goma laughing hysterically at the pitched-down sound of herself coughing). The most significant emotional heft that emerges from this antsyness is less of longing or love and more of a celebratory sort of defiance.
Sea When Absent is a vital reminder that there are sleeping giants of creativity, even as trends continue to squirm out from under the microscope. There are different sorts of heart and significance in musical minds that are as impossibly far reaching as the receptors of potential listeners have become impossibly circuitous and diffuse. Ben Daniels’ inviting makeshift playground of a project continues to retain its exquisitely layered appeal, so if you’re just on the lookout for something fresh in the shoegazer/dream-pop genre, A Sunny Day In Glasgow have your back as ever. But this is one of those genre puzzles that are rewarding to anyone with an adventurous appetite, even if your bright eyes’ve never gazed anywhere but ahead.