Belong Common Era

[Kranky; 2011]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: goth, shoegaze, synth pop, drone
Others: The Cure, Cold Cave, Jesus and Mary Chain, A Place To Bury Strangers, Blank Dogs, My Bloody Valentine

As it turns out, Belong have introduced eight full-on, metronome-paced pop songs for Common Era, their first full-length since their acclaimed 2006 drone/noise album, October Language. I suppose this trend isn’t unheard of. Unfortunately or not, much like recent dark pop geniuses Lower Dens, their hazy confections are arriving awash in a sea of similar and somehow trendier confectioners. Never mind that both bands are doing what they’re doing more fiercely and compellingly than the groups that overshadow them. But I’m here to say that albums like Common Era truly stand out. These albums sound defined. There’s no small attention paid to subtractive power within a hook. It’s like there’s a delicate crest between siren singing and triumphantly defeatist mope rock that is glided across with such impressively sustained poise.

Maybe I’m just getting all geeked-out on form, but when the form encompasses an approach that you have an affinity for (more gauze & ghostly ephemera please!), a true tactician is rare and something to be heralded. Belong have crafted an exquisite set of songs here, well on par with Grouper’s similarly murky pop-ambient masterpiece Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. While the majority is made up of boppy tunes at two varying states of drowsiness, which would appeal to fans of Cryptograms (sleepy) and Pornography (sleepier) alike, these songs — “Never Came Close” and “Perfect Life” being my favorites — possess a blend of refreshing bodilessness and infectious hooks that stands on its own.

There’s a great, brisk evening stroll quality here, drifting imperceptibly between wistful and paranoid. Often Belong have so much noise over top of it, it feels like you’re listening to the band in a hallway outside of the auditorium they’re playing in. But while they may have blossomed up and out of their earthen soundcrawl, there’s still plenty of dirt on the leaves. Both the interlude “Keep Still” and the title track more closely resemble the material on their more buried 2008 EP Colorloss Record, but they’re still distinctly more, well, distinguishable.

With music as well thought-out as this, Common Era earns its perhaps hokily loaded title. I’ve listened to it so frequently and with such fervent abandon that I forgot I was supposed to review the damned thing. It’s its own thing, if not shoegaze — orgasmically drowned-out, airy anthems, fitting for fans of Boards of Canada, Tamaryn, Eden Lake, or A Sunny Day in Glasgow. We like our music obscured; we like dying mesmerized in a state of grace. No matter what their opinions, Belong are contributing to the headcold reverie revue continuum. I just hope they keep at it, whether or not they officially affiliate themselves at the National Genre Registry.

Links: Kranky

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