Various Artists – Blisscent I

Various Artists
Blisscent I

Compilations are not necessarily a money-in-the-bank review for us reviewers. I usually groan when I receive them in the mail. They’re usually scattershot, chaotic collections of bands that all happen to be from the same city or on the same label. Hardly cohesive. So, in other words, there’s no fudging it. Unlike a regular, sequenced album, with which you can skip over some tracks and talk generally about the record as a whole, compilations require a sincere and honest commitment to each disparate track and band. This can be quite a test, given that labels usually pack anywhere between 12 and 20 songs on these things.
Blisscent Records, however, has managed to at least somewhat dispel my fears about compilations. That is, they’ve managed to put together a group of songs that actually sound like they belong together. Blisscent I is a collection of modern shoegazer bands displaying their best for this young label. I’m sure that the cynics among you are already trumpeting that the tracks on the album fit together mostly because shoegazer bands sound so similar. Partly true: the similar atmospheres and moods that bind the genre certainly help keep the tracklist coherent. To suggest, however, that there’s no difference between these bands would be a mistake.
The record opens with Asobi Seksu‘s “The Words Live Longer.” It’s a lot of ambient wash, with buried vocals and all, but it’s a fitting beginning. Skywave is one of the three bands to make their rookie appearance on this comp, and “Fire” sounds a lot like The Smiths playing through a blown amp, and you can take that how you like. The strong female vocals of Au Revoir Borealis lift the subtle guitar arpeggios out of boredom. The highly-mixed vocals are a nice treat among the mostly buried voices on this collection. The bullhorn, sugar pop of The Twigs is a nice tempo change, especially since its followed atmospheric “Space in your Mind,” by Malory.
Collette Carter provides another female voice, and while the track is pleasant, the lyrics about dawn and happiness evoke an uncomfortable new-age vibe. Sunstorm sounds a lot like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, with less structure and more ethereal textures. Lorna, another newcomer, provide the propulsive “You Me Barcelona Now,” one of most inspiring and incendiary songs on the album. Alcian Blue are noisy and somewhat more rhythmic than some of these other tracks, but “Channel” is mostly forgettable nonetheless. Lovespirals, the third rookie, provide a downbeat, lounge-y song that sticks out but fails to stick. Francis 7 boasts the best singer on the compilation. The song kind of sounds like a U2 track if they knew how to layer guitars instead of MTV airtime. Air Formation‘s “The Block Alone,” rips through with anthemic guitars, but the hazy vocals – all too familiar by track 13 – fail to carry the song anywhere. Fortunately The Emerald Down tune in the sculpted feedback of “Red Shift” and provide a nice ending to the album.
If you hadn’t guessed already, I was a shoegazer fan before this album hit my desk, and although it’s not exactly My Bloody Valentine, it’s a damn fine collection of young bands playing a style that came and went all too quickly. This music requires the utmost attention to detail, and so most of the bands too young to have access to expensive recording equipment sound more like the frail buzz of Flying Saucer Attack than the aforementioned MBV, but it’s a blistering guitar mess all the same. Finally, a compilation worth all the writing.