Swervedriver - Mezcal Head
The first question you have to ask yourself is "does this album constitute shoegaze?" The answer is not quite that simple and depends on how you define shoegaze. There are for me, three distinct characteristics of the genre - twin rhythm guitars; heavy reliance on effects pedals on the guitars; and ethereal, dreamy vocals pushed into the background. So let's look at the question again.
On count one, the twin rhythm guitars are definitely there. They alternate between a rock-derived rather heavy sound and weave in and out of a much more delicate and textured sound. Guilty. On count two, the use of effects pedals can be discerned but there is not such a heavy reliance on them as with other bands of the genre, such as Slowdive, and nowhere near the over usage by My Bloody Valentine. Unproven. On count three, the vocals are pretty much to the fore, but they are rather indistinct when it comes to making out the words. Now whether this is a result of poor production or deliberate, I cannot tell. Not guilty. In short, the result of such an analysis is inconclusive. But it does illustrate the difficulties Swervedriver faced in setting themselves apart from the prevailing musical trends.
Coming out in the mid-nineties, this album transcends any attempt to pigeonhole it. At times it begins to sound like some driving rock, at others it crosses into an almost psychedelic feel. However, the true beauty of this album lies not in where it might sit in the musical canon or on a timeline of indie development. Look at the album for what it does and says, not for the pose it may adopt or the front the record company may wish to put on it. This album stands up well on its own merits.
The feeling the guitars generate is intense, and nowhere is this more apparent than on "Duel". This track displays the height of the skill and dexterity through which the guitars weave patterns between them to create a rich layering of sound. Swervedriver's ability to drive tracks through is apparent on "Last Train to Satansville" where their combined effect almost seems to mimic the sound of the wheels of a train rolling. Then there comes the vocal element of the overall sound. Because the voice is so much more to the fore than in regular shoegaze, they have to represent something more than what often passes for vocals on other similar bands. Others may use intonation as just another instrument. Swervedriver have something to say. Yet the vocals represent the album's biggest failing - they are not always that clear. When you can hear the words, it is evident that there is some considerable poetic imagery going into the lyrical composition and structure. The trouble is you cannot hear the words with clarity all the way through. This shortcoming is what impedes my giving the album a higher rating.
However, when all is said and done, this is a good album. It rocks like few other indie albums of its era and challenges you to pigeonhole it at a time when bands and their style, particularly in England, were seen as a logical stylistic progression from one musical influence to another. In the end, whether it is shoegaze or not is not really the point. It is a damn fine album and one which deserved greater recognition than it received in its day.
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