Over the years I’ve grown an affinity for shoegaze music. When it made its presence known back in the late 80s and early 90s I didn’t get it. That was essentially my high school years and I was too busy listening to Rush, hair metal, and speed metal to be concerned with a bunch of mopey Brits staring at the floor as swirls of distortion and reverb filled the space around them. One of my really good friends did buy My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. I think he saw a video on 120 Minutes and felt compelled to purchase it. From what I remember I thought it sounded like white noise. “Where’s the guitar solo?” “Where’s the ballad?” Where’s the breakneck tempo changes and stories based on Ayn Rand novels?” Yes, these were actual thoughts in my head at the time.
So needless to say, shoegaze wasn’t my bag at the age of 17 years old.
Fast forward to 2006 and on a whim I ordered Loveless from Amazon. I’d read a few articles about the making of the record and had gotten a keen interest in the debacle and madness that went into creation of such a noisy album. Turns out I had to grow up a bit to find some angst in middle age to appreciate the music called shoegaze(this happened with me and NIN as well. In 2005 after years of not caring for Trent Reznor, all of a sudden NIN clicked for me. Thanks middle age and parenthood. Thanks responsibility.) Now, I did quite like Lush back in the day. Their album Spooky played quite a bit in my 1977 Chevy Nova, but I think the pop and melanchoy aspects appealed to my teenage dystopia more than anything.
Anyways, back to the relative present.
In 2012 I discovered the New York record label Captured Tracks. I found many bands to love that year on that label; The Soft Moon, Wild Nothing, Diiv, and Thieves Like Us to name a few. Perusing their website I found a section called Shoegaze Archives. This was a group of sorta forgotten, lesser known shoegaze bands from the early 90s and Captured Tracks reissued some of their seminal records. Medicine was one that I discovered on there. I ended up ordering both albums Captured Tracks reissued of theirs(as well as buying both of their reunion albums in 2013 and 2014.) They’re now one of my absolute favorite bands, and I’ve interviewed their singer/guitarist/songwriter Brad Laner twice. Super nice guy and an absolute studio wizard. Anyways, another band I discovered on there was Half String. Now the idea is that most of the great shoegaze bands come from the UK, and I’d say the vibe of shoegaze certainly originated across the pond. But I would also argue that there are a few US bands that took that idea and, while not improving it, gave the genre a unique twist. Medicine was a California band, while Half String came from Phoenix, Arizona. Not the mecca you’d imagine that would inspire the love of overwhelming noise and atmosphere, but listening to their excellent Maps For Sleep record you’d be hard pressed to imagine this band coming from anywhere but Manchester, UK.
Half String’s music is decidedly more low key, down tempo than say MBV, Ride, Catherine Wheel, or the aforementioned Medicine. Their music sounded more like The Cure in lilting form. Lots of heavy reverb, chorused guitars, and sadsack vocals courtesy of singer/guitarist Brandon Capps. Now if you’re not a fan of melancholy, sadsack, heavily reverbed music, then maybe this isn’t for you. Maybe this world isn’t for you, as melancholy and sadsack are two things this world is about. So go take your happy, good times music elsewhere, pal. We’re all about moping and staring at the floor. Sorry, something came over me. I’m not quite sure what it was. Maybe the spirit of overwhelming doom, sculpted into a wall of beautiful noise? Or I just haven’t had enough coffee.
The songs on Maps For Sleep are what you’d imagine them to be: big, lush, cavernous reverb, and plenty of jangly guitar. Vocals are of the sleepy variety, while the drums have that dance-y “Madchester” feel to them. First track “Eclipse” has a dance vibe while still feeling overwhelmingly downbeat. It’s like a sigh put to music. I think the DNA that went into bands like Diiv and Wild Nothing’s music definitely derived from a record like Maps For Sleep. Title track “Maps For Sleep” opens quietly and then has a nice build-up, revving up to some big emotional release. That Fender single coil guitar sound is in full swing here. The song slows down a bit before getting back in full swing with some Robin Guthrie-like guitar noise. Speaking of Guthrie, Cocteau Twins must’ve made a big impression on Half String as those dreamy swirls of delay and chorused guitar echo some Cocteau love for sure.
So this album isn’t breaking new ground, and honestly there are far better shoegaze and dream pop records out there. For me I just love the love and time that was put into reissuing this album by Captured Tracks. They took a band that was seemingly lost in the overwhelming wave of 90s alternative bands and gave them a little bit of the spotlight they deserved. It’s a better-than-average shoegaze album, with some great moments of musical grandeur dispersed throughout. There is also a second LP included with several songs that were never released for public consumption that show the potential for greatness that was there. I think singer/guitarist was said to have a shoebox filled with 56 tunes he never put out, and these bonus tracks were culled from those songs. Pretty cool stuff.
Half String’s Maps For Sleep reissue is well worth checking out. A great shoegaze band that never quite got the recognition they deserved. Thanks to Captured Tracks, and the internet, they may have gotten a bit of that recognition now. At the very least they sold a record to this guy right here.