If one were to create a spectrum between full-on noise and ambience, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s latest record, Love Is A Stream, would fall just short of the noisier end. That’s assuming that on one end you’ve got Merzbow and at the other something like Stars of the Lid. Artists like Tim Hecker and Fennesz would probably fall somewhere near the middle, while Yellow Swans are definitely on the harsher end of this spectrum. In fact, the latter group’s swan song, Going Places, was released last year to much acclaim from the same label that is now bringing us Cantu-Ledesma’s album.
Like Going Places, Cantu-Ledesma also borrows heavily from the best parts of shoegaze and drone, sidestepping the weaker aspects of these genres. Actually, the mission statement of Love Is A Stream seems to be railing against the tired tropes of so much “nu-gaze” propagated by bland indie rock groups that drench their Death Cab For Cutie sound in reverb and try to call it something else (both Brother Kite and Amusement Parks On Fire come to mind). Cantu-Ledesma’s solution is to substitute the trappings of drums, bass, and, for the most part, vocals with incandescent white noise. Melodies remain, sure, but they require extra attention to discern. And while the aforementioned Yellow Swans and a few other acts do cross that barrier into full-blown contact-mic-on-sheet-metal screech (in the most awesome way, I might add), Cantu-Ledesma stops just short in a manner similar to Scott Cortez’s work as Lovesliescrushing.
Traces of shoegaze can currently be found in the haze of so-called chillwave, hypnagogic pop, and witch-house, and My Bloody Valentine references flow liberally in critical response to anything remotely resembling ambiguous vocals or warped guitars. Love Is A Stream really nails it on “Loving Love” though, sounding like a fourth-generation cassette dub of Loveless classic “Loomer” baked in the sun, unwound, dragged behind a moving car, then put back into a tape deck. “White Dwarf Butterfly” reminds me of the kind of material Tim Hecker was doing back in the days of Mirages, with caked-on static and barely-there melodic phrasing. “Star Garden” is thick with screeching feedback but never loses sight of its pop-song structure. The album ends with “Mirrors Death,” a minimal track that sounds more like fireworks slowly fizzling out than anything from the other pieces. It stands in stark contrast to opener “Stained Glass Body,” which contains a somewhat discernible vocal clip on top of layers of guitar.
But the most astonishing thing about Love Is A Steam is how it presents itself as more of a shoegaze album in the classic sense than any of its even more experimental brethren. Indeed, with Love Is A Stream, Cantu-Ledesma is making an airtight case that, despite the growing number of nostalgia-induced rehashes, there is still quite a bit to be done with some of the originators’ ideas.