I’m old enough to have witnessed both the birth and heyday of shoegaze back in the late 80s and early 90s. And it’s been fascinating to watch the genre’s dreamlike atmospherics subsequently spread throughout the world of rock, pop, experimental music, electronica, and even — Satan forbid! — heavy fvckin’ metal.
Shoegaze has adapted and survived. But, more importantly, broadening its audience helped shoegaze stage a comeback in recent times. Hamilton, New Zealand four-piece Ancient Tapes are exactly the kind of group poised to appeal to a vast swathe of shoegaze’s broader fan base. Because, unlike bands that endeavour to disguise their influences, Ancient Tapes fully embrace shoegaze’s sublime aesthetic on their recent demo cassette.
There’s something refreshingly honest and even reverential about that — and it suits the reverie-like mood of Ancient Tapes’ demo perfectly. “Can’t Change” kicks things off with a giant woozy riff that’d do My Bloody Valentine proud — before the song ushers in plaintive vocals and more lush guitar hooks. Follow up, “Brighter” (the best song here), also shimmers and swirls with its ethereal melodies embedded in a heavenly haze of guitars and percussion.
It’s not all shoegaze with even more shoegaze on top though: Ancient Tapes aren’t a one-trick pony. The demo’s final two tracks, “Heartshaped” and “Every Word She Said”, certainly showcase waves of scintillating guitar, but there’s a heap of psychedelic indie-pop to be heard too.
The only complaint I have after listening to the demo’s four songs is that the release is just too short. (I want to hear more, right now.) Admittedly, some folks might also wish for more production polish — even if the point of a demo is to offer a raw presentation of ideas. I don’t think desiring a more polished sound is much of a criticism though. It really speaks to the calibre of the songs here. No question, a fuller and brighter sound would add even more magic.
Like contemporary shoegazers such as Soft Kill, Nothing, and bands of their ilk, Ancient Tapes draw inspiration from across the indie rock spectrum. But there’s no denying theirlayered and textured sound evokes memories of Ride, Slowdive, MBV, and even of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s jangling guitars.
Of course, there are echoes of NZ bands as well. Bailter Space spring to mind, as does a glimpse of a more serene Gordons. Mind you, the band I thought of first of all was the JPS Experience, and their gorgeous shoegaze-fuelled classic, Bleeding Star.
Overall, Ancient Tapes’ demo is hugely promising. It certainly references the past, but the music therein retains a timeless quality that speaks directly to the heart, whatever era it’s created in. Fingers crossed the band has a full-length album in the works, because, as I said, I want to hear more — right now.