Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Letting Up Despite Great Faults and the Emerging Synthgaze

It was the second morning of my CrossFit level-1 certification program, and I was feeling pretty euphoric. I had gotten up early, eaten a well-rounded paleo-zone breakfast, and studied my materials while listening to the Asian shoegaze compilation Half Dreaming. Stepping out of my hotel room, I was experiencing gratitude for the life I have, as well as the obstacles that were in my way that grant me the perspective to appreciate my good fortune. I was even thankful for the questionable cup of freshly brewed hotel coffee I balanced in my hand as I juggled my bags and keys.

Untogether, an album by a band called Letting Up Despite Great Faults, was in the CD player. This was a conscious, deliberate decision that I had prearranged the evening before. It seemed a fitting soundtrack for the weekend, because after all, the album was in my hands entirely due to CrossFit.

Activities like aikido and CrossFit are good for introverted people who like to be social (people like me!). In the dojo or at the box, a person’s identity in the “real world” matters less than what they bring inside. It’s possible to get to know people in these environments without really knowing much about them. In the course of my training, I discovered that a fellow CrossFitter in my box plays keyboards and sings for Letting Up Despite Great Faults. She was kind enough to give me a copy of Untogether, and I immediately put it into rotation.  Here's a "fan video" of sorts for the lead track, Visions.

In the weeks prior to my cert, I had already developed a strong appreciation for the way that Untogether buys into the romance of late 80s synth-pop with its conspicuous use of analog synth and gated drum sounds. The breathy delivery of the vocals and their transparent placement in the mix, however, is sullen and isolated in a way that is clearly reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. I had heard a similar juxtaposition on M83’s masterful tribute to 80s nostalgia Saturdays=Youth, but Letting Up Despite Great Faults differentiates themselves by steering clear of grandiose cosmology. Instead, their overall sound is noticeably more reserved, engaging the more intimate potentials of an emerging “synthgaze” style.

On this specific occasion, however, I had an Indonesian contribution to Half Dreaming, a track called Unperfect Sky, still ringing in my ears from the hotel room.  Unlike many artists on that collection, Elemental Gaze prominently features keyboards.

Distracted as I was by exciting visions of perfect air squats and push presses, when Untogether burst forth from the stereo I thought that, for a fleeting instant, Half-Dreaming had somehow transported into my car. The impression was conveyed in nothing more than a momentary wall of timbre and passed at once, but it was visceral.

The roots of shoegaze extend beyond My Bloody Valentine, and although guitar effects were prominent in many of the bands that wore this moniker, many employed synthesizers, as well.  Despite coming from opposite sides of the planet, the timbral relationship between these particular bands is a reflection of a common interest in the potentials in their shared heritage.  Contemporary synthgaze projects like Letting Up Despite Great Faults seem to explore a parallel reality in which alternative music wasn’t overrun by Nirvana and, subsequently, grunge. Untogether is an appealing excursion into these potentials, and on that particular Sunday morning, it brought the prospects of the day ahead brimming to the surface of my awareness. 

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