Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mandatory Repost: Teenage Filmstars-Star (1992)

By now, pretty much everyone knows who Kevin Shields is. He of shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine. Who over the course of the last 20 years or so have released all of THREE records. But what about Ed Ball. A musical contemporary of Shields. A man Shields described as "A sensitive soul from another planet. A modernist musical alchemist", going on to say "Where other people struggle, Ed Ball plays what we're thinking." Ball, over the last 20 years, has released close to 40 records, a whole mess of amazing discs with UK mod popsters The Times, a handful under his own name, and a bunch with power poppers the Boo Radleys, among others. But what Ball is most famous for, at least around these parts, is releasing three of the most perfect, and perfectly fractured genius shoegaze blisspop records EVER, as Teenage Filmstars: Star, Rocket Charms and Buy our Record Support Our Sickness. Each a kaleidoscopic blurred and blown out avant pop fantasia of sound, mixing in gorgeous melodies, with all manner of found sounds, backwards loops, ethereal vocals, studio fuckery, with very little regard for form or function, for the rules of pop. Instead, seemingly feeling their way through a totally tactile world of sound, everything bristly or buzzy or fuzzy, smeared or blurred, wah guitars wrapped around roaring motorcycles, Spectorish wall of guitars spread over, skittery almost Stone Roses-y rhythms. The most obvious reference is My Bloody Valentine. And at the risk of receiving an avalanche of hate mail, Teenage Filmstars are better. They may not have invented the sound, and they definitely didn't perfect it, instead, they fucked it all up, twisted it and chopped it and doused it in FX, and flipped it backwards, and let it sprawl and spin out of control, wrapped tightly into perfect pop gems one second, then let loose in unhinged squalls of sonic whatthefuck meltdowns the next. Each of the three records growing continually more abrasive, more intense, heavier, more backwards, more fractured and freaked out, and somehow only getting better and better and better.
Star is the first proper release from Teenage Filmstars, and was released a year or two after MBV's epochal Loveless. Opener "Kiss Me" is TOTALLY cribbed from Loveless, but it sounds like it was recorded on a busted 4-track, the rhythm track supplied by a fluttery backwards loop, the guitars super distorted but also brittle, woozy and wavery, all wrapped round the main hook, a guitar / vocal harmony that is just incredible, soaring and wistful but sort of super rocking, the whole thing dripping in effects, Loveless filtered through DIY bedroom pop, and then filtered through the twisted musical mind of visionary sonic alchemist Ball. The track crumbles near the end, the guitars disappear, motorcycles zoom by, the drums all distorted, snippets of classical piano, the twitter of birds, disembodied voices, one intoning "this just might be the finest composition I ever wrote", which it might have been, if it weren't for the follow up "Loving", which follows a similar template as "Kiss Me", with the main hook, a hushed wordless vocals crooning along to a slithery guitar line, all over a looped tribal rhythm, and tripped out wah guitar all over the place. If this was just a single, "Kiss Me" / "Loving", A side B side, it would be hands down one of the greatest singles ever! But we've barely just begun. And it only gets weirder and weirder.
"Inner Space" predates the fuzzy gauzy drift of Fennesz and Jeck and Tim Hecker by 20 years, unfurling sweeping vistas of sound, intertwined with buried melancholy vocals, muted rhythmic skitter, and deep whirring strings. "Apple" is all sixties strum and whirling effects laden swoosh, simple pop stretched out and blurred and distorted into something slightly alien, a warm dreamlike missive from beyond the stars. "Flashes" is a strange sort of electronic calypso, with a subtle techno throb beneath divine female vocals, propulsive krauty drums, and of course loads of FX. "Kaleidoscope" returns to the more MBV style rocking of the openers, and does indeed sound like a shoegazing fuzzrock kaleidoscope, a swirling dizzying space pop jam, the sounds slipping from speaker to speaker, the drums relentless and hypnotic, the vocals buried, but the main guitar melody soaring over the wavery sonic swirl beneath.
Then comes a three song suite of tripped out avant weirdness, drifting fuzzy almost melodies, strange intercepted radio broadcasts, a super deconstructed version of "Kiss Me", looped and flipped backwards and transformed into something else entirely, deep whirling drones, weird voices, samples, deep black ambience, shot though with streaks of glimmering buzz, the sounds of engines, choir like vocals, damaged effects laden rhythmscapes, flange and chorus and delay and reverb all wrapped around little sonic events, laced into a delicate framework of tripped out sound. Until the closer, "Moon", a gorgeous explosion of distorted pop effulgence, thick warbly organs, epic melodies, the guitar so distorted they almost sound like white noise, almost proggy keyboards, the whole thing fracturing into a brief falling apart coda of drum freakout, and skipping lurching guitars. Holy Shit.
So maybe it's not that Teenage Filmstars are -better- than My Bloody Valentine. Just weirder, more fucked up, more spaced out, more fractured, more challenging, more out there, less like ANYTHING you've ever heard, more... oh fuck it, okay... BETTER!!! Bring on the hate mail!!
This reissue tacks on three bonus tracks, all good enough to have been on the record proper, but with way more of the backwards production that would come to define their sound on future records, blissed out fuzzy shoegazey power pop, but crumbling and often in reverse, and thus fantastic. Also included lengthy liner notes, as confusing and obfuscated as the music itself.
The other two Filmstars discs are getting reissued soon, and will definitely also be Records Of The Week, so immerse yourself in Star while you can, cuz it only gets better and weirder from here on out.."

So far left I'm not sure I've got the words for it. It's everything they say and more and I really can't do it more justice than that. Incredible visionary music and more coming soon.

Holy balls

1 comment:

sammi123tv said...

ok, after that description i have to hear this! :D