Back in 2003, The Meeting Places, a new band featuring former members of Medicine and Alison’s Halo, emerged with a subtly quaint yet enjoyable shoegaze CD, Find Yourself Along the Way. This full-length contained songs that were catchy enough, yet the songs themselves were often overshadowed by the band’s dense and over-powering sonics. The listener was treated to a wall of distorted shoegaze sound which hearkened back to shoegaze’s glory days in the early 90’s, or even earlier, to the 4AD days of Cocteau Twins-inspired guitar billows. Yet, in the midst of the atmosphere, The Meeting Places were able to offer a number of well-written songs that shined through, hinting at the songwriting talent that the band possessed.
Fast-forward to 2006, and The Meeting Places have fulfilled that potential with Numbered Days, a triumph of excellent songwriting (complete with existential lyrics and brief notes on the meaning of each song in the liner notes) married with shoegaze sounds. The songs on Numbered Days not only sound great, with The Meeting Places taking a more streamlined and linear approach to their sonics, but the songs the band writes are appealing and strongly represented through the upfront vocal melodies that permeate through the entire CD. “Love Like the Movies” demonstrates this approach, as the song sounds vaguely reminiscent of a Souvlaki-era Slowdive sound supporting a distinctly breezy yet sombre California melody akin to Starflyer 59’s songwriting. The song is sullen and forlorn, yet the melody adds a sense of movement and progression in it, while the shoegaze ethos supports the song by emerging from underneath the melody at key moments (listen to the slightly distorted guitar line during the chorus, for instance). All in all, “Love Like the Movies” is a smart start to Numbered Days, as it highlights the up-front role that melody plays in the CD, while taming the shoegaze fuzz and atmospherics a tad to better support the song.
“Until It’s Gone” is yet another well-written and nice-sounding song, this time with a delicate melody, gentle female background female vocals, and shoegaze fuzz appearing ever so tastefully along with the chorus. The melody (especially the female background counter melody) reminds me a bit of a Beach Boys meets My Bloody Valentine style of writing, which matches the thick layers of guitars sweetly. “Nothing’s the Same” takes a more dark and rock-oriented approach, with its fast tempo and dissonant chord structures. Feedback permeates through the song as the rhythm section propels everything forward at a feverish rate. Following this song is the short but sweet “Mumble”. “Mumble” is a gentle song, complete with light percussion, chiming guitars, and soft vocals. It’s hard to believe that the band playing the airy and melody-heavy “Mumble” is the same band who coated their songs in impossibly huge layers of guitars on Find Yourself Along the Way! “Hall of Fame” follows, infusing more energy back into Numbered Days with its faster tempo and subtly building layers of guitar. The song features a rather linear structure, with sweet female background vocals again adding dimension into the song. “Sink Into Stone” finally finds The Meeting Places playing the kind of music features more often on their debut: thick, hazy, plodding shoegaze music heavy on atmosphere. Yet, “Sink Into Stone” also features upfront vocals and interesting chord structures, again revealing The Meeting Places’ increased confidence in their songwriting. The title song of Numbered Days is a less intense affair, while still incorporating layers of distorted and affected guitars. The vibe of the song, with its light melody and gentle playing, reminds me a bit of the Smashing Pumpkins’ hit “1979”, while not incorporating enough elements to sound too derivative of this song.
At 2 and 1/2minutes, “The City’s Asleep” is another short song, and this time the band incorporates playful keyboards and a campy tempo into their music. There is a hint of the walls of guitars that the band knows how to construct, but on “The City’s Asleep” these guitars are mixed safely off in the distance, present to add depth and not overtake the song. “Pause” floats with a beautifully disorienting sound (keyboards…or are they guitars?…wash over the listener, conveying a sense of weightlessness) and delicate chord structure. The song is ultimately a gratifying study in very subtle but clever songwriting, and sweet sonics that will satisfy any dreampop/shoegaze fan. Finally, Numbered Days ends with the spacey and eerie “Cardboard Robot”. After some time with the rhythm section providing structure to minimal and random sounding sounds that grate (in an appealing way) against the vocal melody, the song erupts in a classic The Meeting Places explosion, complete with dense layers guitars, a new (faster) tempo, and basic mayhem, only to calm back down to the original tempo and sounds, which them erupt again in a way that is completely and utterly gratifying for fans of The Meeting Places first release.
So, by referencing their previous sound enough times in the midst of marked progress in their songwriting and musical sensitivities, The Meeting Places, on Numbered Days, have scored with another excellent full-length release. The potential hinted to in their previous release has been actualized on Numbered Days, firmly establishing that The Meeting Places is (or should be and will be shortly) one of the leading shoegaze/dreampop bands on the scene. Numbered Days is compelling, highly listenable, and even mysterious with its introspective lyrics and distant sonics. Highly recommended!