I’ve mentioned it here before, but I have never been very fond of the term ‘shoegaze.’ It was originally intended as a slight – relegating bands that use effects pedals for their guitars and eschew grandstanding front men to some kind of irrelevancy. Whatever. And nowadays, people who are fans of dreamy guitar pop have mostly come to accept and embrace the term. I have tried, but the sticking point with me is not the original insult so much as that the term is the complete opposite of how one would describe the music being created. If you really lose yourself into the powerful wash of the music being performed, who cares if the singer is making a spectacle of himself?
Blankenberge, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, are a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Their second LP (I’ve got to check out the first!), More, is so musically dramatic that it evokes visions of spectacular vistas, of the heavens parting to expose a brilliant sunrise, of things like the big solar eclipse from a couple of summers ago. This is music that makes one look skyward and feel the immensity of our world and beyond. This five piece create music that is urgent, vivid, epic, and brimming with an electricity that sends shivers down one’s spine.
The first three songs are vital. “Islands” is a perfect introduction. The slow ride cymbal tap, the low buzz of strummed feedback combined with atmospheric high end notes generate a fairly typical shoegaze base, but then the song explodes with a swell of energy and emotion that is simply breathtaking. Yana Gusselnikova’s vocals are barely there (similar to Isa Holliday from Slow Crush) as she spells out a story of unrequited love. She’s lying in wait. Hoping for a chance. We’ve all had these feelings. It’s every day. It’s silly, yet when you are in the midst of those feelings it is overwhelming, it is just about the only thing on your mind. “Islands” captures that urgency in spades. Next up is the unrelenting unstoppable driving force that is “Look Around.” Wow. The rhythm section of drummer Sergey Vorontsov (those drums fills are like a machine gun) and bassist Dmitriy Marakiv lock into a tight interconnected pulse for the twin guitars of Daniil Levshin and Daian Aizlotov to paint over with what sounds like a warning beacon. We don’t know what the warning is for but we’d better make haste. The warning must be for the tidal wave of noise that washes over us during the majestic and powerful chorus. Absolutely stunning. Next up is the stuttering and chiming “Right Now.” This is one of those songs where the lyrics and music synch up in an intriguing way. The words urge us to be inspired. To go out and do the things we always wanted to do. “Let’s get loud right now!” The indication is that we are holding ourselves back. That we are wrapped in self-imposed binders doing what we think we have to do, as opposed what we want to do. Musically, this song matches this fitful image. The song is teaming with life, but it keeps building and building looking for release. There is a burst of escape that is glorious, but despite its intentions that song concludes with what sounds like a vicious internal battle. It is not so easy to break free of our inhibitions and doubts.
After that intense opening, Blankenberge take a breather with the title track “More.” It’s a dreamy rumination on the beauty of nature, but also a warning against humankind’s endless greed. The second half of the album is more deliberate overall. The songs stretch out and find solace in their surroundings. The stunning instrumental “Waves” feels like it could go on forever, while the surprising and well placed saxophone adds an added touch of beauty to the lovely “Until the Sun Shines.” The album finishes with “Fest,” an epic if there ever was one. The significance of celebrating has never felt so important. The song brings a poignancy to the proceedings with its depth, and it feels like a triumph – something to celebrate.
This is an album to celebrate! It’s endlessly exciting to encounter music this alive and this remarkable. Please give this a listen.
Blankenberge "Look Around"