At its best, shoegaze music exists in a nebulous zone between aggression and passivity, and Austin, TX’s Ringo Deathstarr thrives off this sense of contrast. This is old-fashioned shoegaze, as the distortion is fuzzy rather than crunchy, the sonic textures are hazy, and the melodies are tuneful despite a lack of memorable hooks or easily discernible lyrics.
Ringo Deathstarr’s latest full-length, Pure Mood, begins with two wildly different tracks that highlight the extremes of the trio’s disparate sound. First up, “Dream Again” is a two-minute-long mood piece, sung delicately by bassist Alex Gehring, with a barebones arrangement consisting of nothing other than soft, wobbly guitar strums and swaths of reverb-soaked vocal harmonies. After a brief pause, the pummelling “Heavy Metal Suicide” explodes out of the speakers with a threatening psych-blues riff and menacing vocals from singer-guitarist Elliott Frazier. It’s dark and heavy, and is bound to confuse anyone who uses the term “shoegaze” interchangeably with “dream pop,” since its gritty lo-fi sonics are more like a slap in the face than a pleasant slumber.
The album’s remaining 10 tracks are subtler in their balance of sinister and sweet. “Boys in Heat” employs My Bloody Valentine’s old trick of roaring guitars that seem to bend in and out of tune, and the second half of the sprawling five-minute arrangement is dominated by of squalling guitar freakouts that favour trippy noisemaking over discernible notes. On “California Car Collection,” the fuzz swells up from out of an intro of shimmering, celestial ambiance, while “Stare at the Sun” taps into Madchester danceability with its swaggering groove and hypnotic guitar clang. “Big Bopper” contrasts its buzzsaw riffs with a melody so simple and repetitive that it sounds like a nursery rhyme, while “Guilt” and “Frisbee” juxtapose blistering band performances with slow-paced, lackadaisical vocal lines.
These songs are classic examples of shoegaze, and its difficult to talk about Pure Mood without name-checking pioneers like My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Ride, or contemporaries like No Joy and Weekend. Even the album cover — a hazy, abstract gradient of pastel colours — suggests a devotion to the genre’s classic aesthetic.
But even if the members of Ringo Deathstarr aren’t reinventing the shoegaze wheel, this album comes at an opportune time. Bands like My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Ride, Slowdive and Lush have all been staging comebacks within the past few years, meaning that there’s plenty of interest in this kind of music these days. If you’re looking for a solid example of the genre, you’re not likely to find a better new release in 2015 than Pure Mood.
Interview by Alex Hudson