Jefre Cantu-Ledesma On The Echoing Green

[Mexican Summer; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: shoegaze, college wash, new-wave romantic
Others: Johnny Marr, Fennesz, Tears For Fears, Slowdive

How does shoegaze survive in the modern era? We might be getting hit right now with all the reunions that we could possibly hope for (maybe even one too many), but a genre can’t thrive off its elders alone. Shoegaze, which so deeply hinges on the technological cloak of its instrumentation that it’s less a genre of music and more a tonal feeling, faces a particular challenge, as the traditional structure of the guitar band has continued to fade away. As a movement born equally from electronic innovation and an adherence to songwriting styles of decades past, shoegaze has been left with a major question of identity: what can shoegaze even sound like in an era of laptops and “anything-goes”?

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma wields exactly the kind of formlessness that shoegaze requires, and over dozens of releases under a number of different monikers and groups, he’s proven his penchant for tapping into the genre’s fantastical ability to sound like both some distant recollection and a breathtaking vision of the future. Typically, Cantu-Ledesma has broadcasted from the more formless side of the void, his crashing drum loops and cascading waves of clipped synesthesia sounding almost like the memory of a memory. But with his latest, On The Echoing Green, Cantu-Ledesma has brought a newfound clarity to his work, carving distinct shapes of mellifluous guitar lines to impose against his towering sonic architecture.

On The Echoing Green speaks directly to the kind of larger-than-life romanticism so crucial to the shoegaze ethos, incorporating a sense of pop that had been previously buried in Cantu-Ledesma’s gaseous sound. After the warped intro of “In A Copse,” the album settles into its primary mode with the resplendent “A Song Of Summer,” phasing back and forth between shifting sceneries of pastoral static and tight, chorus-driven guitar riffs, with vocals from Argentinian singer/songwriter Sobrenadar providing a gentle coating. Although the music may call back to the giant pop sounds of the 1980s, these pieces aren’t “songs” in the traditional sense, their hooks much too faded around the edges, unclear as to where they even begin or end. “Tenderness” is maybe the closest Cantu-Ledesma comes to such trivialities, with its “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”-level new-wave march, but On The Echoing Green still finds chances to delve into the deep end. After “Dance at the Spring’s” Vini Reilly-style guitar-looping hall of mirrors, Cantu-Ledesma concludes the album with an intense, chopped-up mush of birdsong and hissing frequencies titled “Door to Night.” If On The Echoing Green really is, in Cantu-Ledesma’s words, “like spring… things come alive, blooming, emerging from winter,” then perhaps this finale suggests that his sunlit day has come to an end.

There hasn’t been any shortage of music in the last several years to mine the textures of the 1980s and 90s in search of creating some kind of nostalgic ideal, but On The Echoing Green feels a bit freer than that. Cantu-Ledesma often seems to just be utilizing various pieces of sound to achieve a personal goal of sonic immersion and intensity, and the guitars throughout feel more in line with that objective than any kind of throwback motive. In this way, On The Echoing Green functions like some of the best shoegaze records and not just another one of the thousands of bands trying to sound exactly like Slowdive. It has a purpose driving its sound, not the other way around, evoking a feeling that can’t be expressed within the confines of a note or a lyric or a song. So it must be expressed with something else entirely.

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