DulceSky’s Oliver Valenzuela on…
Catherine Wheel’s Ferment (Fontana, 1992)
Most artists tend to go back to the 60’s or 70’s to name-drop “classic albums” as influences, but for me, I only have to look to the 90’s. I can pick favorite artists from almost every decade, but the late 80’s to the early/mid 90’s is when I felt the magic, because it was happening when I was alive and it arrived fresh out of the oven. While the world seemed to be taken over by “Grunge”, there was this little island of music that was known as dream-pop and later quasi-officially touted as “Shoegaze” (which seemed to have stuck more successfully).
With The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine as the admitted main precursors of this music trend, Shoegaze sprang strong acts, like Ride, Lush, and Slowdive, among others. Catherine Wheel seemed to arrive a couple of years later than the first round of shoegaze acts, but still in time to be given proper forum in such a climate. At the time, I was blown away by Ride’s Smile (a 2-EP compilation for American consumption) and the greatness of Nowhere. But when Catherine Wheel’s Ferment arrived, it sounded bigger than life, and at the time it was the loudest-sounding “cassette” I had back in Santiago, Chile, where I grew up.
I had heard my friends name-drop Catherine Wheel, I had heard the song and seen the video for “I Want To Touch You”, but it wasn’t until I heard “Black Metallic” being played on a friend’s stereo, thanks to a high-wattage college radio station with great programming, that I realized what a monument of a band and album I had before me to discover. Once I secured a copy of my own, and I was able to dissect it, I was instantly blown away by its “hugeness” and strange nostalgic melodies. From the whipping beginning that “Texture” gives the album, as I immersed myself in it, I loved how the songs felt as if they were all a part of the same atmosphere and were so cohesive throughout. The continuity of Ferment‘s songs is one of its greatest accomplishments, while the songs sound different enough to exist on their own merits. Highlights for me are “Flower to Hide”, “Bill & Ben” and “Salt”. I also enjoy listening to the angry and brutal beginning of “Indigo is Blue” which later jumps into a more controlled melody. But really, the crowning glory of this whole work is “Black Metallic”. This epic anthem is so sonically direct, yet at the same time lyrically esoteric. These contradictory characteristics only help the unintentional mysticism created by the song.
Another powerful element that takes the album to its unique heights, is maybe Catherine Wheel’s most valuable asset, and that is Rob Dickinson’s deeply cavernous and intensely emotive voice. Originally the band’s drummer and a reticent singer who stepped into the role when demoing the first songs, Dickinson’s singing, along with their massive guitar elements, is what gives Catherine Wheel its trademark sound.
I remember walking the streets of Santiago, or laying on my bed, listening to this album to exhaustion. I never really got tired of it, I think my mind was turned onto other things, but this album was always there. It may sound cliché, but I really felt transported while listening to Ferment, everything was seen from a different dimension while I had my headphones on. If I was riding the bus home from school, noticing the sunset behind the gray buildings of the city and “Salt” came on halfway through the trip, it was a culminating soundtrack for the day.
A perfect album? Pretty close in my book. There is one discrepancy though, and that is the song chosen to close the album. “Balloon” is a good song, but I think it breaks the mood of the piece as a whole. Ever since listening to the album as one piece, it bothered me that the album didn’t finish with “Salt”, which provides a perfect chaotic and sobering fade for Ferment. “Balloon” would have been a great B-side or as a track placed somewhere in the middle of the album, even though I think it could have lived without it. Catherine Wheel seemed to have repeated the formula with the band’s second album, Chrome, ending such an epic release with “Show Me Mary”, not a bad song, but necessary for the album? I personally don’t think so. But who am I to throw rocks for misplaced songs in past albums or EPs? It seemed right at the time, obviously.
Catherine Wheel had been through Salt Lake City, Utah, the place that I’ve called home since 1996, a few times, but for one reason or another I never made it to one of the band’s shows. Finally, in the year 2000 I had my first chance to see the band live, and little did I know it would be my last, at least for now, as I later found out they had decided to “park the band” (term coined and used by Rob Dickinson to describe the band’s hiatus or possibly their definite break-up) at the end of that year. The show was just like listening to the orchestral distorted guitars of Ferment and Chrome straight from the albums, only ten times more powerful. They had a great selection from their catalog with an emphasis on Wishville, which they were promoting. It all sounded as if they were back to the Ferment/Chrome era when it came to handling their guitars through their overdrive, distortion, and boost pedals and then ending in their Marshall amps and cabinets stacks. I was a happy man, and deaf for three days.
Notes On The Artist:
Oliver Valenzuela is the voice and one of the guitars of DulceSky, a dream-rock/shoegaze-inspired band based in Salt Lake City, Utah. DulceSky came on the scene with their 2006 debut Lands (EWRecs/Nueve Music) which got significant rotation on the college radio circuit and made it to Jack Rabid’s Top 40 on his Big Takeover magazine. DulceSky recently released Invisible Empire, a musical sci-fi that dives into themes of disguised agendas for an unassuming population, all wrapped in “propulsive, dream-rock guitars, dynamic drumming, and Oliver’s deeply sonorous, warm vocal delivery”, as noted by Jen Stratosphere Fanzine of Delusions of Adequacy. You can find out more about DulceSky and the band’s music at www.dulcesky.com..