27 September 2011

Golden Gardens: "Between the Siren and the Amulet"

My many thanks to Golden Gardens for keeping SDM Blog in the loop!

Quite often, I use music as the ultimate escape from the wear and tear of everyday life. I usually opt for music that creates a netherworld of sounds, where the expected is rarely realized and beauty, in so many forms, abounds. So it is no surprise that recently, as I so often do, I turned to dream pop and shoegaze to suspend reality, but I did not immerse myself in the soundscapes of yesteryears. Rather, I finally found the time to sit down and listen to Golden Gardens’ debut album, “Between the Siren and the Amulet” (23 August 2011). Though I hate to truncate or give the illusion of hybridity, this luscious album could easily be called “dreamgaze.” From the opening track, the instrumental “Peisinoë,” the dream like trance generated by compressed guitar sounds and synthesizers lulls you away into nearly an hour of music that is unconventionally alluring and emotionally engaging.

When I first reviewed Golden Garden’s “Somnambulist” EP (link), I wrote of days when incredible EPs and mini-albums were being released; now I remember those amazing days when fledging shoegaze bands were releasing amazing debut albums. But what really makes “Between the Siren and the Amulet” distinct is how Golden Gardens weave the earthly with the ethereal, the post-punk with the dream pop, the shoegaze with electronics. Furthermore, most albums released nowadays are merely a collection of new songs, not connected sonically or thematically in any premeditated way, and simply mixed to give the verisimilitude of cohesiveness to the songs. “Between the Siren and the Amulet” is an album in the traditional sense: there is sonic cohesiveness in how the music was conceived, written, and recorded. The listener simply glides through the musical journey of soundscapes, to the credit of multi-instrumentalist Gregg Alexander Joseph Neville; each song effortlessly flows into the next, even when the tempos and textures are different. This is most obvious between the broody “Amthemusa” and the near-poppy “Ghostwood.” There is no disconnect in the experience, and the change in tempo and style is part of the cinematographic feel of the music.

Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble’s vocals are stunning! Of course, the lazy comparison would be with Elizabeth Fraser (the amazing vocalist of Cocteau Twins), but the more apropos comparison would be with (early) Alison Shaw (of The Cranes) – but dare I say that Bramble’s are more beautiful! She uses her voice not just to create vocal melody and deliver lyrics, but also as another layer within the musical arrangements. Even when the background music is more earthy and guttural, her vocals elevate each song into ethereal euphoria. Take “Three Jewels” for example; musically one of the “earthiest” moments on the album, and though Bramble’s vocals are not as high-pitched, her vocals adds the airy / ethereal counterpart to the music. In a nutshell, the music itself is a perfect example of classic shoegaze, her vocals dream pop.

“The Empress” is one of the most mesmerizing sounds I have ever heard. The guitar-arrangements are as haunting as the vocals, the languid beat accents the anxiousness – it is the perfect example of how to generate visceral power in a song without being bombast. The other track I must mention is “Night Never Ends.” With a nice dose of post-punk “gothicness,” this is the epic track of the album – as well as my favorite track and latest obsession. Like all great epics, it never feels as long as it is actually is (nearly seven minutes). The perfect bass line, even paced beat, ambient keys, and cinematic guitar arrangements all conspire to be the perfect soundscape for the airy vocal arrangements to lull and mesmerize the listener.

Golden Gardens is the exemplar of dream pop and shoegaze in today’s music. “Between the Siren and the Amulet” is not the replication of music of yesteryears gone by, but rather a relevant collection of music that keeps the tradition of the “album” alive in this post-broadband revolutionized world, while bringing the power of two musical traditions to contemporary audiences in a new and vibrant way. Golden Gardens is one of those truly independent bands that treads where others might not, because it is obvious that they place the emphasis on the artistry of the music, like all those nascent shoegazers of two decades ago. If you are obsessed with dream pop and shoegaze as I am, this is an album you will most definitely treasure. If you have no clue what dream pop or shoegaze is, then take the plunge with this album, suspend your expectations, and lull away an hour to this visceral catharsis.

Track Listing:
1. Peisinoë
2. The Empress
3. The Golden Dawn
4. Anthemusa
5. Ghostwood
6. Little Birds
7. Shimmerine
8. Amethyst
9. Three Jewels
10. Night Never Ends
11. Cimaruta
12. The Death of Lovers

Keep up with Golden Gardens at their homepage, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page, where you can preview and purchase “Between the Siren and the Amulet.”

Here is Golden Gardens’ video for “Ghostwood” from the gossamerruby YouTube Channel.

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