February 24, 2004

Hinterland "Under the Waterline"

When I first started college, I was a heavy-duty shoegazer-lover; anything and everything that held any ties to bands like Lush, Pale Saints, Slowdive or labels like 4ad and Creation I automatically held with high regard. It wasn't until I moved in with my first roommate that I discovered the joys of more experimental/music theory-minded music-makers. Sure, I loved Harold Budd, and I really dug Brian Eno, but I didn't really know much about people like John Cage, Kronos Quartet and Morton Feldman, and I started to lose my taste for shoegazer-style music. Of course, I still have a nice, healthy respect for people who continue to mine the musical landscapes and plunder those 'cathederals of sound' in the name of their creative muse.

Canada's Hinterland is one such band. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're mere imitators (and, believe me, there are a TON of imitators in the shoegaze-world), their debut record Under The Waterline is a record I would have really loved ten years ago...sheesh, has it been that long ago? The album starts off with "wasnteverwinded," a soft, beautiful drifting ambient piece that flows in and out of utter bliss perfection, and after two minutes and fifty-seven seconds, the bliss is broken by the awkward vocals of Michaela Galloway. On this particular song, her precious, childlike singing isn't what you'd expect--it's a bit too much like Cranes' Alison Shaw for my taste---and it's a bit of a shock.

This shock is quickly corrected with "Lethe Lights," because Galloway doesn't sing in such an affected manner, and the rest of the album continues the trend of nice, gentle, soothing atmospheric rock, never too heavy on the vocals or overwhelming with the music. The music just floats quietly; the waves of sound softly colliding with Galloway's lovely singing. It's all a bit gentle, simple, and lulling; like a healthier version of the Cocteau Twins--though, to be fair, it's more like Violet Indiana; Galloway's singing is much more akin to the heartier, soulful style of Siobhan de Mare.

It's this blend of lovely vocals and depressing yet soothing instrumental backing that really makes Under the Waterline a joyful noise; this is the kind of record I listened to years ago, but haven't heard in quite a while, because nobody's making music quite this nice, this lovely, this dark and poppy any more--bands these days either get caught up with the singing, or they get hung up on being as 'weird' as possible with the music. Hinterland has found the perfect balance between the two, and this debut album is a pure joy.

---Joseph Kyle

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