Stargazer Lilies Door To the Sun

[Graveface; 2016]

Styles: shoegaze, drone pop, psych
Others: Rev Rev Rev, early Brian Jonestown Massacre, Warlocks, Malory, Stella Luna

It’s weird reflecting on Stargazer Lilies’ John Ceparano and Kim Field’s former band, Soundpool. In many respects, the duo’s newer group has been a distinct sidestep away from the sound of the final Soundpool album, Mirrors In Your Eyes. That album has a legit claim to being the only disco shoegaze album in memory. While shoegaze has certainly had an interesting relationship with dance music over the years (see: “Soon” or “In Mind”), Mirrors In Your Eyes sounds like disco is its first concern and shoegaze its second, thanks to the album’s purposeful use of prominent funky bass lines, girded with ethereal vocals and swooning guitars.

But sometime in between its 2010 release and 2013, Soundpool jettisoned the dance element completely in favor of the kind of psych-tinged shoegaze that The Brian Jonestown Massacre were pedaling on Methodrone, pared down its members, and became Stargazer Lilies. In an interview, Ceparano admitted that they felt like they were going nowhere in Soundpool and were exhausted trying to write music in a larger ensemble whose live act hinged upon such a large quantity of synths, while the songs he and Field were writing relied less and less upon them.

Nothing’s really changed between the first Stargazer Lilies album, 2012’s We Are The Dreamers, and Door To The Sun. The guitars still have that solar flare texture, and Kim’s voice is as hushed and breathy as ever. Instruments are stacked layer upon layer; even a low-key acoustic strummer like “Summer’s Gone” is awash in fuzz and reverb. The few times that John takes over lead vocals still have a slight tinge of Mercury Rev or Flaming Lips at their most melancholy. The tempo never gets above a codeine cough syrup lumber (I’d love for the band to tour with True Widow, so I can see who really has the slowest ‘gaze). But what the band lacks in novelty, they make up for in sonic architecture. Ceparano’s guitar has never sounded better, while the thump of the bass drum and the thwacks of the toms are low in the mix, blunted just enough so you can hear the crisp cymbal washes. When they drop every instrument out and do a vocal break, it’s absolutely heavenly.

If you tried to guess what this band would sound like based on Door to the Sun’s cover art alone, there’s a good chance you’d nail it. The lens flare on the sunset image approximates the kind of ring wear you’d expect to see on decrepit old psych albums. The shadowy figures against the sky, arms aloft, conjures a kind of “hippie vibe,” at least letting the browsing public know they might be hearing something psychedelic upon closer inspection. Even the name Stargazer Lilies is practically boilerplate “shoegaze band name” territory. But we lose something in judging books by their cover, and here as well. Written off so easily, you’d never get to experience the lush textural interplay between instruments and the cascading fuzz that only comes with this band in particular. So yes, maybe the world reached peak shoegaze in 1995. So what? If the entire garage rock genre exists to explore the minute differences that can still be wrung out of three chords at breakneck speed, then there will always be room for bands with a penchant for that old English melancholy to bring some noise in a way that (yes, admittedly) will always remind some of My Bloody Valentine, even if to those of us fully ensconced in this scene you’d get some side eye.

Links: Stargazer Lilies - Graveface

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