November 24, 2015

Review: Ringo Deathstarr | Pure Mood

Is it still too early in dream-pop's current swell in popularity to proclaim a band the "Wilco of shoegaze?" Such a mantle might not yet fit Austin, TX noise-pop goliaths Ringo Deathstarr, but it nevertheless illustrates the liminal point the act occupies as it issues its tremendous new album Pure Mood. Across its four-album run (including 2011's Sparkler singles collection), the trio has established itself as reliable producers of potent, thoughtful rockers that faithfully honor established shoegaze conventions with artfulness and a bit of humor. Pure Mood is a perfect summation of Ringo Deathstarr's strengths, but it also raises the question: where does the band go from here?

And perhaps this is where Wilco could point the way. Obviously recruiting guitar virtuoso Nels Cline can only be done by so many bands... But by albums four and five, Jeff Tweedy and company famously transformed with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born by not only revealing more of themselves, but also by mixing up their influences to concoct an avant and abstract challenge to its prior oeuvre. Is it time for the Texas titans to inject more vulnerability or experimentation into its work? The latter is already happening in certain corners of Pure Mood. Indeed, its most thrilling moments are when Ringo Deathstarr defies expectation, as in "Dream Again," one of the few songs on the new collection where the band allows the piece to unwind in its own fashion, rather than choosing the easier exit via dramatic buildup or ignition of a holocaust of distortion and other effects. Album highlight "Stare At The Sun" slinks by on a delicate guitar bridge-plucked groove that not only sounds unlike anything that has been played by a shoegaze band before, but also manages to be both emotionally stimulating and entirely impossible to predict as the piece shifts to a shrill and danceable anthem of a chorus. It's a highly imaginative moment for the band, but also a glimpse of one possible future for an act that may be approaching an inflection point.

Pure Mood embraces influences both unexpected and logical. The grungy chords and steady, pounding drums of the Elliot Frazer-led "Never" and "Heavy Metal Suicide" echo Alice In Chains and relatively recent tourmates Smashing Pumpkins, specifically those bands' presentation of punk-derived energy in the context of big, polished productions. Even so, The Deathstarr knows better than to let go of its own strengths. For example, the relatively more aggressive and bass-forward sound introduced with its 2012 long-player Mauve [review] persists on the new collection. Bassist Alex Gehring, Mr. Frazer's longstanding musical foil, handles vocals on many of Pure Mood's softer songs, where her clear, euphonious tones shine brightest. There she is right at the outset of the record on the aforementioned stunner "Dream Again," gracefully harmonizing and doubling her vocals. And "Boys In Heat" and "Acid Tongue" underscore just how adept Ringo Deathstarr is at crafting the sorts of woozy, mid-tempo whammy-bar workouts characteristic of much of the Texans' 2011 debut, Colour Trip. Beyond these songs' inherent beauty and majesty, it is impressive just how fertile this territory is for the band: while in a sense the sound is Ringo Deathstarr's bread and butter, the threesome never feels like it is repeating itself because of the bracing, brisk and pop-leaning aspects of its songwriting. Pure Mood was released Friday by London-based Club AC30 in two separate colors of vinyl, on compact disc, and as a digital download. Unfortunately, it appears that the vinyl is already sold out, but the CD can be snatched up right here. -- Edward Charlton

Ringo Deathstarr: Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud

Prior Ringo Deathstarr Coverage:
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