Everything Else Matters by Pinkshinyultrablast

psub-vinyl_finalIn June 2009, a hitherto-unknown Russian band called Pinkshinyultrablast put out a 4-track EP on Bandcamp. Happy Songs for Happy Zombies was well-executed classic Shoegaze that brought to mind the early work of Astrobrite – which makes sense, as the band is named after an Astrobrite album (although the sound of the EP is closer to Astrobrite’s debut, Crush, than Pinkshinyultrablast itself).

And then… nothing.

For the next 6 years, the 14-minute Happy Songs EP became a bit of a cult classic in Shoegaze circles.  Lots of people raved about it, but no one really knew much (if anything) about the band behind it and where they’d disappeared to.  It seemed like they’d go down in Shoegaze history as a one-EP wonder.

But then in November 2014, Club AC30 surprised us with the Pinkshinyultrablast  single “Umi” and the news that a full-length would follow soon after. The bouncier, synthier “Umi” hinted that the band had expanded its sound in new directions since Happy Songs, and the full-length, Everything Else Matters, demonstrates a confidence and variety that might surprise listeners expecting and album full of classic ‘gaze.

11230222_829118407166941_6437711576021179095_nThe label’s band bio talks of “sharp, icy electronics” and makes reference to Cluster and Philip Glass, but I don’t hear much of that in the actual album.  Yes, the band has brought a lot more electronics into their sound, but they haven’t abandoned guitars and noise completely, although they now share the musical space with a wide range of other tones and textures.

“Wish We Were” opens the album with a warm, synthy base that gets augmented with overlapping, multi-layered vocals that sound a bit like a cross between Elizabeth Fraser and Sinead O’Connor.  And then the vocals drop out and synthetic percussion takes center stage, and it’s clear this isn’t another Happy Songs for Happy Zombies.  It isn’t until 3-1/2 minutes into the song that we finally get the guitars I was expecting when I played this for the first time, and they lead us through the rest of the track.

“Holy Forest” opens with a repeating post-punky guitar figure that had me thinking of the short-lived Burning Airlines.  Then a bit of 80’s-flashback synth guides us to the body of the song, which mixes electronics and noise over Lyubov’s lovely vocals (the band members each go by a single name).  The song builds to a nice, noisy crescendo before passing us on to the Cocteau Twins-esque opening of “Glitter”, which, like “Holy Forest” switches gears mid-song and throws a layer of noisy guitars into the mix.


“Metamorphosis”, “Umi” and “Lands End” follow a similar theme, keeping listeners on their toes with repeated sonic and tonal shifts between guitars and electronics.  “Ravestar Supreme” has the Shoegaziest opening on the album, but even here the band continues its strategy of alternating between fuzzy, buzzy passages and airy, ethereal stretches.

At nearly 9 minutes long, the closing “Marigold” mixes up melody with some fairly epic noise – a bit of chainsaw guitar here, some metal-esque guitar there, and 3 minutes of humming fuzz to close out the album.  From beginning to end, the album’s 8 tracks show us a band with a strong grasp of song construction and a desire to keep from getting pigeonholed into a single genre label.  I’ll admit that the first time through it, I found myself wishing for more full-on ‘gaze, but once I let go of my preconceptions and expectations, I was impressed by what the band had managed to do across the span of 44 minutes.

Club AC30 has given the band a warm welcome back to the world of recording. In addition to the album and its preceding single, the label has released two EPs:  Holy Forest adds a non-album cut and three remixes to the title track, and Ravestar Supreme contains the album version and two remixes. The label’s site doesn’t offer digital downloads, and Holy Forest is completely sold out there, but you can find all three releases at Amazon, iTunes, and eMusic.

By phil locke

Fall Into Nothing by 93millionmilesfromthesun

CoverThe new 93millionmilesfromthesun (93mmfts) album, Fall Into Nothing, is a beauty.  For folks who are already fans of the band, I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to love it.  If you don’t know them, I assume that if you’re reading this review you have some experience with – and fondness for – music in the Shoegaze/Dreampop/etc galaxy of styles. If that’s true, please, give this one a try.  You’ll be glad you did.

If I had to come up with a quick descriptor of the general 93mmfts sound, I’d call it “sonically dense.”  Across three albums, several EPs, and a compilation of unreleased, remastered, and rerecorded tracks, they’ve pushed the boundaries of mid-tempo, fuzz-drenched, guitar-driven rock in impressively creative ways. Fall Into Nothing feels like the culmination of everything they’ve learned about building textures, creating moods, and layering basic elements of voice, guitar, bass, and drums into emotionally evocative songs.  It’s a mature and thoughtful work, from the production and mixing to the way the sequencing of the songs carries the listener on a journey that feels like a natural progression every step of the way.

In reading reviews of past 93mmfts albums, I’ve often run across comparisons to Slowdive, and that connection never really rang true for me until this album.  Slowdive didn’t have such a consistently saturated sound, but they had a comparable mastery of tone and mood.  Another album that came to mind repeatedly as I listened to Fall Into Nothing was Bowery Electric’s self-titled first album.  Although their sophomore effort, Beat, seems to get more press, their debut offers listeners a voyage through a fuzzed-out dreamscape that could be Fall Into Nothing’s gentler cousin.

Fall Into Nothing’s opening “Intro” enters with the sound of falling rain, and then brings in slowly shifting guitars that ride the edge of feedback, sounding as though Windy & Carl might have wandered in for a guest spot. From there, we move into “Reflections”, which is when we know for sure that this is 93mmfts.  Compared to prior albums, the vocals ride a bit lower in the mix on Fall Into Nothing. Without a lyric sheet, it would be hard to tell you what the songs are about.  Words come through here and there, but the main vocal contribution is to the overall tenor of the songs… it’s the emotion that comes through in the singing that’s important.

InsideInsideThe mood across whole album is one of melancholy and longing.  Even tracks whose titles sound brighter, like “Sunshine Girl” and “New Day Comes” give a sense that maybe the sunshine girl is one who got away, and the new day is arriving with thunderclouds on the horizon. The tracks on Fall Into Nothing aren’t defined by unexpected tempo changes or catchy vocal hooks, although there are moments that stand out. “Watch Her Fall”, the title track from the EP that preceded the album, has a memorable guitar melody that runs through the last two-thirds of the song, and it also benefits from a strong bass line. While guitars may be the stars of the show on Fall Into Nothing, the bass is an invaluable supporting player, bringing a meaty low end to the crunchy, fuzzy guitar layer underlying most of the songs.

“Watch Her Fall” segues into “Interlude I”, one of five short pieces (including the first and last tracks) that are a key part of the sequencing.  They don’t break the album into thematic blocks, but they add variety to the pacing, letting the drums and bass drop out and sending the guitar off on solo journeys…while ”Interlude I” carries on with the noise, “Interlude II” lets the guitar shimmer and chime – again, Windy & Carl come to mind – and “Interlude III” slows things down before “See Forever” throws down the album’s most distinctive intro, with a prominent drum beat and a guitar line that treads between a shimmer and a whine.


Back CoverIn contrast to the short interludes, Fall Into Nothing includes a couple epics – “Flying” and “A Million Miles Away” both approach the 11-minute mark without feeling overextended. The hypnotic “Flying” turns down the fuzz, letting the vocals come more to the forefront.  “A Million Miles Away” is a noisier affair, and a fitting climax to the album before “Outro” returns us to the rainy day where we started, with more atmospheric guitar work slowly winding things up and setting us free to go off and reflect on the 73-minute adventure we’ve now completed.

In closing, I’d offer a couple suggestions for getting maximal enjoyment out of this album.  First off, give it a try in different settings… blasting it in the car and listening to it through a good pair of headphones offer very different insights into the music.  Also, if you run the audio through an equalizer, this is the sort of album that can change dramatically depending on the settings, because different elements get pulled out of the mix. It’s worth playing around a bit and seeing what you might discover.

By phil locke

Life After ‘Gaze Part 1: Lush and Pale Saints

Lush and Pale SaintsThese days, if you pick one of the key bands from the first peak of Shoegaze in the 90’s and ask “Whatever happened to them?” the answer is very likely to be “They’re back together again!”  My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, Swervedriver, The Jesus and Mary Chain… we no longer need to wonder where they wandered off to, because they’re playing live shows and/or releasing new music.  As a longtime fan of the genre, it’s been great to see the return of so many seminal ‘gazers as a result of the Nugaze explosion and the changes in the music industry that opened up myriad new distribution channels.

That said, there are some bands that are, unfortunately, probably gone for good.  While I’m not holding my breath for a Lush and Pale Saints reunion tour, stranger things have happened…

But even though the bands may never reappear in their old form, individual members have worked on various projects over the years.  Many of these releases were very hard to track down when they first came out (good thing I’m persistent!), but are now easily available through Amazon, iTunes, or other sites.  Some of the projects may be familiar to you, but I’m hoping I can provide at least a few pleasant surprises.

1990.03.24 - Melody Maker - Double Visions, Lush & Pale Saints
1990.03.24 – Melody Maker – Double Visions, Lush & Pale Saints


The sad and tragic end of Lush, following the suicide of drummer Chris Acland in 1996, closed the book on the band forever—Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi have said that without him it just wouldn’t be Lush. Emma moved on to form Sing-Sing with Lisa O’Neill, and working with Mark Van Hoen of Locust, they released two albums, a few EPs, and some singles between 1998 and 2006.  She’s got a Twitter account but doesn’t tweet much about music.  Bassist Phil King went on to join The (now-reunited) Jesus and Mary Chain.

Miki Berenyi left the music world almost completely behind, although she has popped up as a guest vocalist from time to time.  In 2013, she appeared on stage for the first time in 17 years to sing the song “You Still Here?” with the band Hard Skin, for whom Chris Acland used to drum, and she lends vocals to the track’s album version.  In July 2014, she bantered on stage with David Quantick at the launch party for his book, Memoirs of a Shoegazing Gentleman, and shared some memories of the early 90’s music scene.

And then in November she came on stage alongside Phil King to add vocals to “Just Like Honey” during a JAMC show in London.

Last fall, Emma and Miki gave an interview with Under The Radar magazine about the making of their album Lovelife and the end of the band, and they followed that up recently with a similar interview about the making of Split.  Here are some links to help you track down Miki and Emma’s various projects and appearances, plus a couple tracks Lush contributed to tribute albums:

Miki Berenyi guest appearances:

Seinking Ships – Museum Quality Capture (2010), tracks:

We Will Drink Wine

Digging His Own Hole

You Didn’t Love Me

Flat 7 – Lost In Blue, tracks: Smile, Smile (Robin Guthrie Remix)

The Rentals – Seven More Minutes (1999) trackThe Cruise

Hard Skin – Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear (2013) trackYou Still Here?

Hard Skin live appearance October 5, 2013:  You Still Here?  (Miki’s intro starts at 3:45 into the video)

Sing Sing albums, EPs, and singles:

The Joy of Sing Sing

Sing-Sing And I

Madame Sing-Sing EP 

I’ll Be EP

Feels Like Summer EP

Tegan single

Panda Eyes single

Come Sing Me A Song single

Lush compilation appearances:

Whore: Various Artists Play Wire  – track: Mannequin

A Houseguest’s Wish: Translations Of Wire’s ‘Outdoor Miner’ – track: Outdoor Miner

(Interestingly, Colin Newman of Wire considers these his top two all-time favorite Wire covers.

Under The Radar Interviews:

The Making of Lovelife

The Making of Split 

By the way, if you’re interested in tracking down Lush rarities, I suggest checking out Kneel’s Lush Discography as a starting point to see what’s out there.

Pale Saints / Lush Tour Itinerary

Pale Saints

Over the course of its three albums for 4AD, Pale Saints had two quite different primary singer/songwriters. Ian Masters was the frontman on The Comforts of Madness, and then he shared lead duties with Meriel Barham on In Ribbons. Following Masters’ departure, Barham helmed the band’s underrated final album, Slow Buildings in 1994. Interestingly, both Masters and Barham moved away from the Shoegaze influences of Pale Saints in their subsequent projects.

Ian Masters worked his way through numerous band aliases, releasing music that ranges from catchy – and occasionally noisy – pop to eccentric experimentation.  Before leaving the 4AD stable, he collaborated with Chris Trout of AC Temple under the name Spoonfed Hybrid.  The duo’s sole, self-titled album came out on the short-lived 4AD offshoot Guernica in 1993.  Two EPs followed on other labels.

Much of Masters’ post-4AD work was done in collaboration with Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive.  The highlight of the post-Pale Saints output has to be the album Mars Is A Ten, which was originally offered to (and turned down by) 4AD.  Depending on where you live, the band name for this album may have been ESP Summer, ESP Continent, or ESP Dolphin. The album features Masters’ distinctive vocals against a musical backdrop that is much quieter than what we heard from Pale Saints. Defever’s fondness for sometimes-quirky production shows up in occasional unexpected odd noises. The band’s complete output, including Mars Is A Ten, a follow-up 10” EP, and other assorted tracks is available as The Complete Recordings from Silver Mountain Media Group (the home for all things HNIA-related). Silver Mountain also recently released the long-delayed HNIA rarities collection, Frog and Toad , which includes an Ian Masters demo of the track “ESP Summer”.

From there, tracing Masters’ musical journeys is a complicated and exhausting task.  In collaboration with Warren Defever and his Time Stereo label, Masters released the CD-R Noise Bucket under the name Pail Saint, and recording as I’m Sore (and playing an electronic musical saw), he released the Musical Saw cassette and shared a split CD with Michigan’s noisy Princess Dragonmom. Sore and Steal released the album Many Moons A-Go-Go in 2009 (free download available), with Masters once again playing “musical sore” (saw) accompanied by David Rothon on “steal” (steel) guitar. Defever and Masters also recorded as ESP Neighbourhood and Friendly Science Orchestra, and under the latter name contributed a track to The Winner Is The Loser, a 2000 compilation featuring a number of bands from the Defever/Masters universe. Friendly Science Orchestra also appears on a couple tribute compilations, performing “Because of You” on the Tim Buckley tribute album Sing A Song For You, and “Parasite” on Poor Boy: The Songs of Nick Drake.

After that, Masters put out music (solo or with collaborators) as Oneironaut, Two Sun Tears, Unfriendly Science Orchestra, Mountain Ocean Sun, Wingdisk, and probably others I’m not aware of.  You can find a bit more info about Masters’ various projects on his website The Institute of Spoons, which hasn’t been updated since 2009, and is tricky to navigate – some pages are only accessible from certain other pages.  A couple starting points are here and here (use the drop down menu at the top left to access other pages).  Masters currently lives in Japan, and as far as I know, he’s no longer recording music – although it may just be that he has a couple dozen new musical aliases I don’t know about.  If you have any inside info, please feel free to share in the comments!

Here are a few guest appearances he’s made:

Ian Masters guest appearances:

Dive Index – Mid/Air track: Hoku Onchi

Waves On Canvas – Into The Northsea track: Starfish

Luminous Orange – Sakura Swirl track: Silver Kiss

Meriel Barham’s post-Pale Saints discography isn’t nearly so sprawling or complicated.  After a long absence, she turned up in 2001 as Kuchen with a charming album of sweet, low-key Indietronica titled Kids With Sticks on the Karaoke Kalk label.  The Kuchen website has more info, including an interview about the end of Pale Saints and the genesis of Kuchen.  She followed up Kids With Sticks in 2003 by collaborating with Stefan Schneider on Kuchen Meets Mapstation.  Her musical trail goes cold after that, and she currently works as an Outreach Administrator at the University of Manchester.  Here are a few guest appearances and a compilation track from the Barham-helmed incarnation of Pale Saints that was the band’s final studio recording:

MerielMeriel Barham guest appearances:

The Edsel Auctioneer – The Good Time Music Of… tracks:

Summer Hit


The Boo Radleys – Giant Steps tracks:

Rodney King (Song for Lenny Bruce)

One Is For

Rodney King (St. Etienne Remix) (available in the 2010 reissue box set)

Pale Saints compilation appearance:

Step Right Up, a Tribute to Tom Waits track: Jersey Girl

The remaining Saints – Colleen Browne, Graeme Naysmith, and Chris Cooper – have been part of various bands through the years, including some in which they’ve worked together, but I’ve not pursued them and can’t offer many insights. So I’m going to have to leave it to Wikipedia and Discogs (BrowneNaysmith, and Cooper) to fill you in on those.

If you’re looking for info about Pale Saints’ history or discography, palesaints.co.uk is a good place to start.

Hopefully you found something in this article to tickle your musical fancy or bring back memories of the old-time ‘gaze days.  Look for another installment of Life After ‘Gaze on Step On in the future.

By phil locke

Lend An Ear: Shoegazers we’re listening to – Part 13

Lend An Ear 13Another terrific playlist of Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Nugaze, and Noise for your listening pleasure and once again, recommended to you by Phil Locke. (Also see Part 12 for more of Phil’s selections).  This playlist features Eros and the Eschaton, Curelight Wounds, Jetman Jet Team, The History of Apple Pie, Roku  Music, Coaltar of the Deepers, Noir For Rachel, Salsa Cinderella, TuT, and Medicine.

Lend An Ear: Shoegazers we’re listening to: Part 12

Lend An Ear Part 12We have a great new playlist of Shoegaze, Dream Pop and Noise bands for your listening pleasure.  This time around, the selections have been suggested entirely by our very own Shoegaze aficionado and Step On writer Phil Locke!

On this playlist you’ll find The Lees of Memory, SPC ECO, Hot Glass, The History of Colour TV, We Need Secrets, Hammock, Crimsonettes, I Am Your Captain, Tokyo Shoegazer, and Slowness.

All Is Full Of Loveless

As a longtime fan of music that falls under the umbrella of the Shoegaze genre, I’ve enjoyed Step On’s “Shoegazers we’re listening to” series (which has just posted its 10th installment).  If you’ve been following it as well, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that Shoegaze isn’t just one easily identifiable thing—the label is applied to bands with a wide variety of sonic palettes and songwriting styles, and that’s been true ever since the genre’s heyday in the 90’s.

My Bloody Valentine

In spite of that variety, however, I can almost guarantee that if you read any article about Shoegaze in general, or any review of an album that has been slapped with the Shoegaze label, at some point you’re going to see the words “My Bloody Valentine” (or perhaps just the shorthand initials “MBV”). The band’s 1991 magnum opus, loveless, is almost universally considered to be the seminal shoegaze album, and it pops up near the top of just about every listing of the most influential Rock/Alternative albums of the 90’s or even of all time.

For me, it was an album that radically changed the way I listen to music.  Back when it was released, my musical tastes were very Top 40, with a smattering of College Rock and Lesbian Folk Rock. Back in those days, there was no World Wide Web, so being “online” meant email and text-based bulletin boards. I used a service called GEnie, which included a musical forum with message boards for fans of Pop, Rock, Jazz, and other genres, including “Alternative”, which was a catchall for everything that didn’t fit into the more common categories.

At some point I ran across a message thread in the Alternative forum where fans of MBV were discussing loveless, and I saw this description of the technique MBV maestro Kevin Shields used to create the introduction to the album’s opening track:

“The ‘whamming’ sound that comes in and out of “Only Shallow” is the feedback from 8 guitars and a Hammond organ sampled, and then slowed up through a midi sequencer, and then sampled back into a midi synth-guitar.”

That sounded pretty cool, so without having heard any music from the album, I went out and bought it.  And I vividly remember my first listen—I was at my parents’ house for Christmas 1993, and no one else was home, so I popped the CD into the living room stereo and cranked the volume up pretty high.

Nadja.  Photo: Brooklyn Vegan
Nadja. Photo: Brooklyn Vegan

[I’m literally getting goosebumps as I write this, remembering what came next…]

And then I heard four drum hits, after which my eardrums were pummeled by a breathtaking sonic soup unlike anything I’d ever heard before.  Was this really music? When Bilinda Butcher’s ethereal, borderline-intelligible vocals joined the mix, all I could do was sit back and marvel.  The juxtaposition of sweet, syrupy melodies against a giant wall of swirling, gliding fuzz made me question pretty much everything I’d ever thought about what constituted “music”.  And I was hooked.  For the past 22 years I’ve actively sought out albums that I’ve often described as “sweetness and noise” (and which my ex described as “having your head stuck inside a vacuum cleaner”).

Given the experimental quality of the instrumentation and the difficult-to-understand lyrics, one might think that the tracks from loveless would be unlikely candidates for cover versions. But in a testament to the influence the album has had, there have been no less than four full-album tribute remakes, along with numerous single-track covers.  If you’re a fan of the album, and would like to hear what other people have made of it, you might seek out some or all of the albums & tracks below.

 Japancakes – Loveless

This was the first full-album remake of loveless, and it’s a beautiful instrumental interpretation in which the vocals are replaced by cello and pedal steel, backed up by lush arrangements that feel somewhere between country and orchestral. Rather than mimic the original, Japancakes takes the songs and makes them their own.

Listen HERE

Kenny Feinstein – Loveless: Hurts to Love

Feinstein fronts a Portland-based “roots-bluegrass-punk” band called Water Tower. His loveless remake was born of a desire to better understand the original album, which made no musical sense to him when he first heard it. After listening to loveless every day for a year, he recorded the full album, plus the EP track “Swallow”, with arrangements based around his acoustic guitar and vocals. The final result is a mixed bag—some of the music is quite pretty, but the album is a good example of the difficulty inherent in recording clean vocal lines for an album whose lyrics nobody really knows.  Feinstein bravely commits to his interpretation of the words, but they feel off-base in places.



Various Artists – Yellow Loveless

Various Artists – Blue Loveless

These two full-album remakes feature Japanese (Yellow) and Korean (Blue) bands covering loveless’ 11 tracks. The Blue version dials down the noise, but it holds together better as a cohesive album.  Most of the bands on the Yellow version go for more of a Shoegaze sound, and aside from a couple glaring missteps—Shonen Knife’s “When You Sleep” feels sorely out of place, for example—the album is an interesting listen and provides an introduction to some cool Japanese bands, including Tokyo Shoegazer and Lemon’s Chair.

(Yellow full album)

(Blue full album)

Ever since my first listen, the sonic gymnastics of “Only Shallow” have been my favorite MBV moment.  Aside from the remakes above, I’ve collected numerous additional covers of that track.  I’ve listed a few interesting ones below, but there are plenty more out there if you’re interested – there are more than 60 versions on Soundcloud alone found HERE.

 Nadja – “Only Shallow” (from the album When I See The Sun Always Shines On TV)

The Canadian doomgazers take the original and filter it through their own fuzz-based sonic assault and the result is possibly my favorite cover song ever. The rest of the album is also worth a listen for its remakes of tracks by A-Ha, Codeine, The Cure, Slayer, Swans, Elliot Smith, and Kids In The Hall (yes, the comedy troupe).


Half Zaftig – “Only Shallow” (from the album The Eyes Have It: B-Sides)

This was the first “Only Shallow” cover I ever heard, and it does an admirable effort of recreating the feeling of the MBV version with more straightforward instrumentation. The vocals are mixed at a level that keeps them just about as ambiguous as the original. And that’s a good thing.


Ken – “Only Shallow” (from the album I Am A Thief)

Aside from recreating the original track’s “whamming” effect with electric guitar and synth, most of this version uses a more stripped-back instrumentation driven by bass and drums with an almost drum ‘n’ bass rhythm. Near the end, most of the instruments drop out for a mostly clean vocal bridge that works surprisingly well.

You can listen to it on MusicMe HERE.


 Pas De Printemps Pour Marni – “Only Shallow” (from the album My Bloody Covers)

This self-described “French electro pop band” gives its influences as Broadcast, Sonic Youth, and Stereolab. That sounds like a good recipe for an MBV covers collection, but does it work?  Well…sort of, I guess.  The vocals are mixed quite high and clean in the mix, which could be a detriment (see Kenny Feinstein above), but the vocalist’s accent helps blur things a bit.  The overall feeling is a bit lounge-y and sounds more Stereolab than Sonic Youth.  I found the track amusing the first time I heard it, but it’s not one I return to often.


Walt Ribeiro – “’Only Shallow’ for Orchestra”

Ribeiro has recorded orchestral cover versions of tracks by dozens of popular artists from Skrillex and Lady Gaga to Daft Punk and Nine Inch Nails. His take on “Only Shallow” is bouncy, lighthearted and fun – probably not adjectives you’ll hear applied to the original, but he makes it work.

phil locke

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