I think a common answer to the question “Who is the king of shoegaze?” would be “Kevin Shields.” And there’s good reason for that…he paints with a sonic palette that’s been a major influence on countless bands over the past 25 years. But I’d like to offer another nominee for the crown: prolific Chicago-based musician Scott Cortez.
If you’re a fan of shoegaze/dreampop/etc music, you’ve most likely heard some of his musical projects, even if you don’t know him by name. Although he has released work as Scott Cortez, the majority of his recorded output has come to us through the bands Lovesliescrushing and Astrobrite, along with the lesser-known Star, Transient Stellar, Polykroma, and Aurian (with his son Julian).
Although Astrobrite is probably most closely associated with glorious walls of fuzzy noise and otherworldly vocals, the project’s sound has embraced variety over the years, from the hypnotic drifting soundscapes of 2011’s Boombox Supernova to the melodious cacophony of 2007’s Whitenoise Superstar. (Curious what drum ’n’ gaze might sound like? Check out that album’s “Cherryflavorburst” for a taste.)
Scott’s latest bundle of etherealblissnoise is Astrobrite’s Deluxer, whose “Ronin Mix” is currently available for digital download at Bandcamp. (See the end of this article for info about alternate versions of the album.)
The digital version of Deluxer positions itself toward the more restrained end of the Astrobrite spectrum, in the neighborhood of Boombox Supernova. The opening title track sets the stage with its alternating airy male & female vocals set against a slowly swirling backdrop of soft-edged fuzzy guitars. “Thief” travels further into a thicket of dronegaze, with vocals a bit lower in the mix and guitars more in the forefront.
“Tomorrow Forever” keeps the fuzz buzzing and adds a background warble that sounds like it might just break out into My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” at any moment. “Cold” slows the tempo down and further blurs the distinction between vocals and instruments.
“Wild Dogs Roam The Gleaming” opens by lifting Scott’s vocals up to the point of occasional intelligibility and then mixes things up with some quiet/loud/quiet/loud dynamics, closing out with an extended noisecloud laid over a steady, almost military-processional drumbeat.
On my first listen, the next track evoked strong Cocteau Twins memories, with its shimmery guitar intro and vocalist Sophie Nagelberg’s sweetly reverb-drenched vocals. I was then intrigued to discover that the track is titled “Twin”…I don’t know if it’s intentional homage or mere coincidence, but Scott and Sophie give Robin an Liz a run for their money on that one.
“Blind” and “Headhunters” bring us a couple more variations on the basic Astrobrite recipe, and they offer a perfect example of how an album like this is likely to divide listeners. For those who love the sound of voices and guitars stretched, layered, distorted, and warped into all manner of interesting textures — as I do — these are just two more delicious pieces of sonic layer cake to be slowly savored. For those who aren’t so much into the sweetness and noise formula, these tracks will probably leave their ears wandering toward something more conventional.
Deluxer closes with its shortest and longest tracks. “Tiny Bright Sparks” — the album’s only sub-four-minute track — dials down the fuzz, layering synth-like guitars underneath Scott and Sophie’s distant, angelic vocals before exiting on a gently fading guitar panning back and forth between stereo channels. And then comes “My Endless Sky”, which opens abruptly with a puff of amp noise and then a sharp buzz reminiscent of the start of “One More” from Medicine’s Shot Forth Self Living. “My Endless Sky” then carries us on an epic journey through nine minutes of billowing noise anchored to a drum track that’s more prominent in the mix than on the other songs. It’s a perfectly satisfying ending to another solid Astrobrite album.
Scott Cortez clearly loves tinkering with sonic possibilities, and on a few occasions this has resulted in the release of multiple versions of songs or albums. Astrobrite’s 2001 debut, Crush for example, was later re-issued in several remastered and/or rerecorded and or re-sequenced versions as Supercrush and Superdupercrush. That tradition continues with Deluxer – a US domestic CD release that is “mixed louder & noisier” is forthcoming on Scott’s own Wavertone Records, and a Japanese import CD on Vinyl Junkie will feature four bonus tracks.
Scott posted on Twitter that the 10 tracks on Deluxer were whittled down from an original 33 recordings, so I think we can expect more new music from Astrobrite before too long. In fact, Scott has already posted three demos on Bandcamp from a new Astrobrite album, Suprema, which is due in Fall 2015. The band is heading to Japan for live dates in May with Narasaki from legendary Japanese shoegazers Coaltar of the Deepers, and Chilean ‘gazers Trementina. So if you’re there, アストロブライトを聞てみてください！