NEW ARTIST: COLD SHOWERS
Los Angeles' Cold Showers break the fourth wall with their synth-laced Shoegaze.
Shoegaze, as a genre, deals with detachment, like watching the world through rain-soaked windows or through the distancing lens of the camera. It's the sound of blurry photographs and old movies. It's a soundtrack for watching the world speed by through car windows, as illustrated by the neon-lit Tokyo streetscapes of Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation and the idyllic pastoral backdrops of a My Bloody Valentine concert.
This distance speaks to a kind of peace and a romantic, poetic worldview. At worst, it's the sound of looking to one's record collection or favorite films for musical inspiration. While there's nothing wrong with being influenced by media, it does raise the risk of imitation rather than innovation. It's one of the reasons the first wave of Shoegaze was so short-lived (although a crotchety music press in the twilight of its influence played a much more significant role.) Some of second-wave Shoegaze simply wasn't that good. The records sounded flat and uninspired, as opposed to the wild poetic psychedelia and volume worship of the originators.
We've been seeing a renaissance of loud, blurry-edged Indie rock in the 21st Century, as new generations have fallen in love with the psychedelic swirls and doomed romanticism of Shoegaze. Bands like A Place To Bury Strangers have rediscovered the power and violence of sheets of distorted guitar, feedback, and reverb and revealing new revolutionary potential for guitar music. This rekindling has yielded all manner of interesting new evolutions of Shoegaze, from the archaic electronica of Tycho to the cavernous, goth-y bedroom pop of bands like Wavves.
All of these threads come together in the music of Cold Showers. The L.A. quintet shatter the Fourth Wall, piercing the critical distance and detachment of Shoegaze, lacing it with muscle, marrow, and sinew via '80s synths and drum machines.
The band take their name from their hometown of Los Angeles, where it's always warm and sunny. Their name is a nod to their intentions, acting as a gloomy cloud of Los Angeles' perennial poptimism.
Their gothy, dour dark cloud aesthetics are evident from the beginning, with "I Don't Mind", one of their earliest singles, released by Mexican Summer in 2011. "I Don't Mind" sounds more in-line with the Garage Pop of bands like The Vivian Girls that was trending at the time. The shoegaze is more of a mood, at this point, with the band focusing on crafting memorable melodic guitar hooks and slightly twee guy/girl vocals. There's foreshadowing of the synth-pop/Shoegaze to come, however, with kaleidoscopic phase and flange. The music video, directed by Brian Davila, tells the real story, however. It starts off with a severed pig's head being thrown into the audience at a pirate indie gig and ends with the band sporting corpse paint and gurgling blood. There's nothing quaint or precious about "I Don't Mind."
I DON’T MIND
Shoegaze's gauzy textures are already starting to creep in with "BC," another of Cold Shower's early singles, with no-little thanks to Crystal Antler's Andrew King's crystalline guitar arpeggios. There's still that retrodelic flanged sheen, however, giving "BC" a slightly-off opalescent sheen, like a piece of meat about to turn. It gives the feeling of watching late-night telly in some sort of altered state. That doesn't just mean a mellow Cannabis high or earthen psychedelic journey. This altered state could be due to insomnia, amphetamines, a broken heart. It's more unhealthy and less wholesome, which makes it more rock 'n roll by default.
COLD SHOWERS - BC
Finally, we arrive at Cold Shower's current iteration with "Plantlife," which The Quietus describes as "skin-itchingly epicurean powerpop." The garage rock has been entirely replaced with rigid, pulsing synth, pairing their Shoegaze with a mightier, more energizing Synth Pop, a la new-wave Shoegaze practitioners like The Soft Moon or Cold Cave. The sound suits them, playing up their tight rhythmic chops, which has been one of their strongest suits since the onset.
COLD SHOWERS - PLANTLIFE
Cold Showers offer a critical re-evaluation of so many musical movements - 1st Wave Shoegaze, Synth Pop, Death Rock, Post-Punk, and good ol' Rock 'n Roll. Every one of those movements has had their more-than-fair share of frankly crap artists, albums, and impostors (looking at you, Death Rock.) Jonathan Weinberg's vocals remind us of what is good about the SoCal goth rock sound, before it was tarnished and dragged through the mud by two many LARPers in eyeliner. Likewise, their goth-soaked Garage Pop reminds us of when Rock 'n Roll was truly dangerous and fun, made by stilletto-wielding misfits. We Are: The Guard would like to sincerely thank them for their service.
Shout-out and mad props to We Are: The Guard curator Daniel Ragnar for the find!
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.