By Blake Edward Conley
Ever visit an old abandoned fairground? Places where epic adventures with friends are had, strange innocent memories of endless summers, the last vestiges of pure fun without expectations. The skeletons of rollercoasters litter the skyline. Seeing it as an adult, everything drifts into focus. The colurs are faded, the chains rusty, the shadows once imbued with their own storylines, now longer and colder. But still, your heart can see it for what it once was.
Cincinatti’s Slow Glows deftly recreate this feeling. The band has a sound almost like finding an old, slightly sun-damaged photograph, the faces smiling, but frozen, the hues losing some of their luster in the fade from technicolor. Founded by guitarist Kelli Redding and Rachel Thode on drums and then successfully filled out by bassist Ian Gorby, Slow Glows feel both in the now, but also in the past. Referencing sonic touchstones as Lush, Slowdive, and (this author’s personal favorite) Galaxie 500, Slow Glows are a band who knows their way around a hook but also know that there can’t be light without shadow. Nostalgia can be thrilling, but it can also hurt like a motherfucker.
Starting their debut album Stargaze Rock ‘n’ Roll, funny enough, with a song called “The End’, the band choose to ease you into the process. Thode utilizing a heavy, stuttering beat where the kick never quite lands where you think it would. She’s a subtly swinging drummer, creating beats that can drive in a rock way, but with the emphasis on the parts of the kit often more employed by a jazz drummer. Following her intro is Gorby’s tantalizing basswork. Gorby clearly knows his post punk and is able to find bass parts that prove the true rhythmic and melodic backbone to many of the songs, allowing Thode and Redding to create a beautiful maelstrom around his steady center. Eventually Redding’s droning modulated waves of guitar come in, coating everything in an uneasy haze. This is a move they display throughout the album and do incredibly well. The band clearly isn’t interested in dragging you by the collar, but instead they lay out the sonic trap and wait for you to fall into it. Slow Glows don’t come to you, you come to Slow Glows. Eventually Kelli Redding’s vocals complete the picture. Redding’s vocals rely, generally, on the top of her register, lilting and wafting, riding the wave of sound rather than commanding it. Eventually the waves subside and the song pulls back to once it began.
The next number is ‘Sodapop’ which switches things from the heavier moody drone that came before into a more up pop motif. The sound is still wet and echoey, but there is a feeling of more immediacy. The contrast between these two encapsulates the breadth of Slow Glows’ scope. They are like a sonic roller-coaster able to lift you up to tall peaks, and bring you down to dark valleys. And all of the songs have a feel of, what I’ll call, the Slow Glows’ sway. The chord changes, vocal melodies, and beats rock back and forth like a swing blowing in the wind. But even at their highest, the band isn’t ever one for pure sugar. Even in their poppiest of numbers like ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Evergreen’, they still allow the darker shades to seep in. The band heavily employs both reverb and modulation effects on their guitars and even the overall tonality of the record. Praise should definitely be pointed towards engineer Brian Olive who utilizes reverb that sounds less open and clean, more gritty and claustrophobic. This choice doesn’t create the underlying feeling of fleeting innocence of youth slipping away for the weight of adulthood, as much as sympathetically accent what is already there.
Like all great records, attention to sequencing was paid- the first half of this album feels more immediate, while the second half feels more thoughtful. While side A has the forceful but kind of funky ‘Caravan’ (complete with tambourine!), the back half has heavy rocker and early single ‘Spiderland’. This is one of the harder and darker numbers on the album, but its use of phaser in a clear defined, arpeggiated guitar hook proves this song to be a good encapsulation of everything this band does well. The back half also features the mighty ‘Mosaic’ which features a truly epic ascending guitar lead.
Slow Glows’ live show feels like how their songs sounds, awash in beautiful but abstract lighting. Pretty bursts of color that are eventually washed away through new shades and the harsh burn of the overhead projector. And on their debut album they are able to capture this perfectly. Stargaze Rock ‘n’ Roll is a pretty incredible start to a hopefully long career. It presents a band that is aware of the history of the genres it dips its toes in, but pull it all together into one consistent, cohesive defined statement. The band feels and sounds confident and deservedly so. A band this powerful, smart, and creative will surely be providing great music for a long time.