May 24, 2006

Fleeting Joys "Despondent Transponder"

Just when I thought that Astrobrite had this year’s Kevin Shields Excellence in Shoegazing award on lock, a band like the Fleeting Joys comes along to challenge them. They’re the kind of group that the phrase “recommended if you like” was invented to describe. If the words “My Bloody Valentine” mean anything to you, you might as well stop reading this and buy their debut album Despondent Transponder right now. I exaggerate only mildly when I say that the rest of this review is merely an attempt to boost my word count. Whereas Astrobrite tries push MBV’s sound into new levels of extremity, the Fleeting Joys are content with well-executed mimicry. However, the Fleeting Joys have one thing that Astrobrite lacks — a real drummer!

Opener “The Breakup” has all of the necessary elements: guitars that are smothered in distortion and reverb, and bend themselves slightly in and out of tune; coed vocal harmonies that rise and sigh just as effortlessly as the guitars; ethereal Vangelis keyboards; and simple, yet meaty, bass lines. It even ends with a between-song segue, a la Loveless’ “Only Shallow”! On the next track, “Lovely Crawl,” the guitars quickly swoop downward at the end of each bar like vultures diving toward a carcass. When the Fleeting Joys speed up the tempo (on songs like “Satellite” and “Patron Saint”), they sound less like MBV and more like early Swirlies. When they dispense with the whammy-bar histrionics on “Where Do I End,” they sound less like either band and more like Swervedriver.

Despondent Transponder isn’t entirely devoid of distinction, though. On “Magnificent Oblivion,” orchestral samples are cut up and rearranged for rhythmic effect, suggesting what MBV would’ve sounded like if they had recorded for Mille Plateaux. The group’s secret weapon, though, is drummer Matt McCord. Sturdy yet flexible, McCord’s rhythms make the Fleeting Joys’ mellower songs float and their harder songs swing, which already puts the band in a class above many similar Shields disciples — raise your hand if you remember Study of the Lifeless!

It’s obvious that the Fleeting Joys are targeting a specific niche audience (read: me and everyone else who loves MBV as much as I do). Thus, when I say that Despondent Transponder rules, it would be wise to take my recommendation with a grain of salt. Then again, have I ever steered you wrong before? :-)

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