We recently reviewed Wasted Time, an EP from Philly’s Stellarscope, noting that the Slowdive-inspired music hinted at a band full of promise. However solid Wasted Time was, though, it could not prepare us for Stellarscope’s next release, hot on the heels of their EP. With their full-length Reverberations, Stellarscope takes a giant leap forward in sonic exploration and songwriting, and in the end create a compelling musical experience that will appeal to fans of the shoegaze/dreampop subgenre.
The most noticeable difference in Stellarscope’s approach to music that appears on Reverberations is a new focus on using electronics in favour of live drums. And, while simply infusing one’s music with drum machines may seemingly do little to alter a band’s music, the experiment no doubt influenced the way Stellarscope wrote and recorded this CD. For instance, the songwriting on Reverberations seems generally tighter and more focused than on Wasted Time. In addition, the band relinquishes their noisy assault on the eardrums and dissonant chord structures in favour of more balanced (and slightly more accessible at times) sound usage and more accessible songwriting. Overall, Reverberations simply sounds more musical, and more pleasing to the ears, whole retaining a heavy experimental vibe to the recording.
Reverberations opens up with the eerie, “Alma”. Sung entirely in Spanish with Tommy Lugo’s distinctive and passionate vocals, “Alma” right away introduces the listener to Stellarscope’s new musical ethos. A light electronic beat and subtle electronic bass line gives forward motion to what is essentially a drone/atmospheric song. A cloud of hazy sound, constructed by what seems to be a blend of heavily affected guitars and keys, cradle Lugo’s emotional vocals. The beat finally dissolves, leaving a couple of minutes of drone sounds that eventually fade away. “Dominio”, with its psychedelic sounds, lazy electronic beat, and layered vocals, lead the listener into a dreamy state of mind. Though the song is minimalist in terms of the density of the sounds used, the band smartly uses their sounds to convey a mood of depth. The catchy “Universe” follows, and is a great example of the tighter songwriting that Stellarscope has employed for Reverberations. The song’s main melody shines over a tight electronic beat, soft atmospherics, spoken word samples, and an almost rock-sounding instrumental refrain. The song is memorable, as the melody (and overall vibe) lingers on in the listener’s mind. Perhaps the key song of Reverberations is “The Rapture”. Featuring a slow, druggy tempo, random and strange keyboard and guitar sounds, a foreboding melody, and one of the few songs to actually feature live drums, “The Rapture” has “signature song” written all over it. With unnerving lyrics such as, “it is time to flee from me”, and Lugo’s wrenchingly emotional vocals, “The Rapture” is as disquieting as it is beautiful. Following this song, the more comforting instrumental “Circle Are None” plays, with its gentle keyboard parts and blooping light electronics. “She Said: It Is” delivers the band’s fastest song of Reverberations, and the electronic approach to the song give it an almost 80’s synth-pop feel at times. That’s not to say that the shoegaze atmospherics are cast aside on “She Said: It Is”, because the song displays an impressive array of hazy sounds, including a buried guitar solo that is beautifully played until the song’s fractured conclusion. Yet another song that somehow blends intriguing songwriting with heavy atmospherics is “Close to Home”. This song utilizes space generously, allowing the various guitar lines, vocal melodies, keyboard parts, and electronic samples to intertwine and play off of each other. As a result, “Close to Home” sounds reminiscent of a “post-rock” song (slightly resembling Bark Psychosis) than a shoegaze song. Yet, the band pulls off the experiment masterfully. Another instrumental song, “It Is Time…” features an upfront electronic beat, a simple melody played by layers of guitar, and odd sounds warbling in and out of the haze. Finally, the tightly-written “Lost Inside” blends psychedelic guitar lines with a relentless light electronic beat while Lugo sails his vocals pensively over the music.
The end result of Reverberations is a moody and absorbing collection of songs that will appeal to lovers of shoegaze, dreampop, psychedelia, and atmospheric recordings. The experiment of utilizing electronic beats and other novel sounds while retaining some of the previous shoegaze-sound the band was known for has paid off quite handsomely for Stellarscope, as Reverberations is a unique-sounding project with few weak moments and a lot of very strong ones. Reverberations confirms what fans of Stellarscope already knew: that this band is capable of creating inventive and fantastic music. And, with their ambitious attitude and already-lengthy discography, it seems likely that we’ll be hearing more from this talented band in the future.