Not Too Strange Shoegaze
Los Angeles-based shoegaze outfit, Gliss, continue to carve out a unique niche in the dream-pop genre with their fuzzy, reverb-filled, new full-length, Strange Heaven. 2018s addition to the Gliss catalog picks up where 2015s Pale Reflections left off, and we see the duo, with roots in Berlin and Copenhagen, really capturing the essence of Scandinavian life. It’s as if behind the wall of reverb guitar, hypnotizing drums and the sinewy ribbons of harmony, the band is bottling tracks that are perfect for short winter days. Put another way, these tracks are moody and take after that Northern European joie de vivre. Think Beach House on a day where the beach is covered in fog. Or a chunkier version of Pulp.
The band called Gliss has been around, in some form or another, since the early 2000s—yet, they’ve stayed mostly undetected by the mainstream. Their first LP, Kick In Your Heart, was noisy enough to catch the attention of Smashing Pumpkins frontman, Billy Corgan; the singer-songwriter would eventually invite the band to support him on tour for his 2005 solo record, TheFutureEmbrace, and Gliss would contribute a track to a Smashing Pumpkins’ tribute album the following year. Their career boosted through these opportunities, Gliss caught the attention of many West Coast media outlets with appearances on KCRW and KEXP (their 2013 SXSW show on the latter has a particularly representative aesthetic). Their music began appearing in US television commercials for Mastercard and Calvin Klein, and all of a sudden DIY Gliss (a band who self-released most of their music, more recently on their own Kraftwööd Musik Frabik label) is the most heard, unheard band out there.
For a group who tend to experiment with sounds and textures, Strange Heaven stands amidst their discography as one of the more straightforward Gliss releases. Sure, there’s a great deal of experimentation—both in and around the shoegaze genre, but also just in the realm of pure sonic exploration—on the ten-song track list. But for the most part, this album is Gliss at their most comfortable. The tracks are sturdy, albeit lukewarm, dream-pop, a style for which Gliss are well known. From a lyrical standpoint, the songwriting is difficult to decipher, but for listeners willing to suspend their need to understand the words in a song, each song on tracklist manages to capture a distinct feeling.
The album’s first single and opening track, “My Lie,” is a spellbinding waterfall of guitar feedback and ghostly harmonies. The song’s pure shoegaze catharsis seems to pick up where “High and Low” on Pale Reflections left off. “My Lie” is perhaps the most post-punk, Mogwai-esque song on this record, and it has the atmospheric chops to set the tone for the rest of the track list.
The New Age-inspired “Ja Ja” is an obvious nod to the Krautrock influence on the band, with that classic ’80s thumping drum line propelling the track into an echoey dancefloor groove. The band gets maxed out on fuzz towards the end of this track, and transitions into the third track, “Hand to the Wall.” These opening three songs make up the bulk of Strange Heaven’s radio-friendly tracks, as “Broken Minds” and “S-Bahn”—as shimmering and interesting as they are—represent a more experimental aspect of this album.
The title track, “Strange Heaven,” is a sonic exhale, as if Gliss turned to a musical safe space amidst the depths of studio experimentation. There are still all kinds of tinkering on this track—static, overdrive, robotic glitches, what sounds like a violin—but the group definitely sticks to their habits in arrangement and lyrical content. The song sounds as if it could have been written during any of the last four decades, definitely within Gliss’s timeline.
A lot of the tracks on Strange Heaven have this quality: a certain timelessness that bodes well for their new and old fans. For instance, the penultimate track “West End” sounds a lot like old Gliss but with glimpses of a more pronounced, refined aesthetic. Strange Heaven serves up classic tracks for fans of the shoegaze genre but might leave some fans wanting more.