Nu Gaze Dissected

By our music boffin, Alex Hills
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Taking up residency as Clash’s in-house music boffin is Alex Hills, a composer and lecturer in the department of academic studies at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

Unaware of each song’s authors, Alex blindly merits the compositional qualities of songs given to him by Clash, judging the best of the bunch by its perfunctory arrangement...

This month, we get all Nu Gaze and profile its protagonists and influences...

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1. My Bloody Valentine - ‘When You Sleep’




The first striking thing about this one is that the beginning sounds like an ending! The little repeating melody seems something that should be a winding down and fading out, not an introduction. But that’s quite an interesting effect and works for me. When it comes back halfway through the song, though, I need it to do something a bit more, to expand or develop. Its last appearance is a bit surprising, as it takes over the whole last minute of the song, and does function like an ending in the way I thought it would at the beginning. That rather undoes the weird effect it had at the beginning - it would have been more interesting if it ended with an introduction…

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2. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - ‘Come Saturday’



I do like feedback - that works as a way to start even if it is a bit of a cliché. After that I find things much less memorable, the language and structure is just too generic for the song to really have its own identity to me. The best bits here seem to have to do with texture: the little backing vocal bridge passage - ‘ooh oooh ooh’ - comes in in good places and provides a bit of a relief from the rather monotonous basic chord progression. There is also a nice verse starting a little over a minute in where the sound becomes more bass driven and the oppressive rhythm guitar calms down a bit. The guitar solo isn’t inventive enough to keep me interested at all, though, really just there to fill out the numbers, as rather too much of this song is.

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3. Wavves - ‘So Bored’



The most immediately striking thing is the very rough, distorted sound that the production gives this - to me this already makes it vastly more distinctive than either of the previous songs, just because the sound itself has a complexity and texture to it. I also like the way the melodies develop - although the bass and drums are fairly consistent and static slightly less predictable things are allowed to happen across it. I don’t find the song as a whole hugely compelling - singing “I’m so bored” again and again isn’t exactly a way to convince me of your creative faith in what you are doing - but the sound the band get is enough to get my attention for a while.

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4. Crystal Stilts - ‘Love Is A Wave’



Whoa, a properly short song! This is really in a hurry - it feels like it does everything it needs to, and the length is quite appropriate for the very limited materials. Although there isn’t much there in terms of contrast or development, you don’t really need it on such a small scale. The ending is nice too, as the voice is brought into rhythm with the drums to give a nice clear gesture. You can’t really have a big climax in something so short - it just seems out of balance and over the top - so the little bits of shaping and variation that do happen here are quite appropriate. This works well as a song, although again it doesn’t really have the creativity or imagination to make it into something more.

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5. Crocodiles - ‘I Wanna Kill’



This is quite interesting. The wobbly tremolo noise that goes the whole way through the song is a good idea - it is odd and original, and using it unchanging in a song that is otherwise very diverse and could seem a bit chaotic works extremely well. This is quite the opposite of the previous song structurally - it is long, and seems it, but judges the amount of contrast needed to sustain the scale really well. The texture changes in clever ways, with both instruments dropping in and out. I like that the instrumental verses aren’t really solos in the conventional sense of providing a place to generically show off, but just take a melody and play with it a little. The ending is sharp too, it brings in new elements and then breaks them off suddenly and seems almost to happen too soon, which is no bad thing.

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THE VERDICT

The idea of beginnings seems an interesting thing to talk about here. The first twenty seconds or so of a song do so much to establish its identity, and our expectation of what will happen next. The first song uses exactly the same music at the beginning and the end, which is an interesting idea, but it fails to go on enough of a journey between those points, so we feel like we are stuck rather than have returned somewhere. The second song has a really clear if generic opening gesture that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of it, and that lack of consequence dilutes its initial impact completely - this song is the loser of the week. The third and fourth songs both begin with statements that establish their character, but don’t take it anywhere surprising. What I like about the last song is that what seems like an introductory gesture - the tremolo sound - actually turns out to go on for the whole thing, so it both sets things up and surprises us. Easily the best of the selection.

THE WINNER? - CROCODILES ‘I Wanna Kill’

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