Oftentimes, as a man of Puerto Rican descent, I am torn when it comes to music. Everyone knows that Salsa, Merengue, Jibaro, or maybe Reggaeton are the logical choices of music listening for coquis like me. And yet, here I am listening to and writing about dreamy shoegaze music. While I LOVE the tropical sounds of congas, cuatros, and fluid bajo lines, I almost feel like a traitor being so enthralled by shoegaze/dreampop music. Thankfully, though, I’m not alone. For, while Philadelphia’s Stellarscope plays a tripped-out brand of classic dreampop, paying homage to Slowdive with their affected layered sounds, I can take comfort in knowing that front-man Tommy Lugo is a fellow Borinqueno. What this has to do with the group’s EP release, Wasted Time, may escape most listeners; but for me, the fact that the swirling layers of guitars heard on Wasted Time are crafted by a Puerto Rican musician is soothing to my tortured soul.
Of course, taken by itself without any reference to the nationality or culture of the musicians, Wasted Time stands on its own as a collection of moody and atmospheric shoegaze songs. The frantic “Out of Time” opens up the CD with crashing drums, droning guitars, and a fast tempo. The song reminds me of what would result if one combined the sound of Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine with Slowdive, as the dissonant guitars are layered yet jarring enough to unsettle the listener. The soothing “Tesseract Blues” follows, with its mid-tempo drum work and soft layers of guitars and keys. Lugo’s voice, while always distinct and expressive (setting him apart from many other shoegaze/dreampop singers) is markedly softer and subtler on “Tesseract Blues” than on track 1. The short “Moon Mode” is next, and like “Out of Time” features fast and busy drumming by Bob Forman. The melody is a little less distinct on this song, and this fact, coupled with the fast pace of the song, gives it an almost punk feel. Yet, “Moon Mode” is able to retain the dreampop moniker as it also employs a plethora of sonic layers that echo in the listener’s ears. The epic “Darklight” is a slow moving song with an elevated chorus and chimy guitar lines. The reverbed sound of the verses gives way to a wall of distortion for the chorus, and is augmented by Lugo’s passionate vocals. The song then descends into a flourishing cacophony of guitars, keyboards, and drums. “Azul Cielo Azul Mar” is perhaps Stellarscope’s finest song on this EP, with its tender melody and swirling keyboard and guitar lines cradling Lugo’s voice. More than the others, “Azul Cielo Azul Mar” shows Slowdive’s influence, as the song’s overall sound emanates a dreamy and wistful feel. Finally, “Perception is Reality” ends Wasted Time with its nicely executed guitar work, lingering melody, and harmonized vocals. The song also reminds one of Slowdive, with its hazy production, while rising above Slowdive comparison with aggressive playing during the soaring chorus.
Indeed, Wasted Time is a very promising and enjoyable release from this ever-improving and experienced band. While the production featured on the disc is relatively murky sounding, Stellarscope is able to craft a sense of depth with their beautiful layers of sound. With future releases already being perfected and readied for release both as a band and on individual projects, Stellarscope is a band to watch out for. And, though Stellarscope is a three-piece unit with two awfully Anglo-sounding names providing the rhythm section, don’t fault me for declaring with a sense of pride (and relief as a Puerto Rican) that on Wasted Time latin music has never sounded so dreamy! (for fans of Slowdive, The Meeting Places, and Malory)