I've wanted to appreciate U.K. pop-punk/alt.-rock act Mega City Four for many years now, and after several failed attempts, they've finally clicked. In the gradual midst of looking to acquire all of their output (or at least the full-lengths), I wanted to start off with something from one of their later albums—in this case 1993's Magic Bullets. Beyond that, I'll isolate my navigation to YouTube's recommendations, only clicking on videos from artists that don't yet reside in my collection…
Mega City Four, "Wallflower," from Magic Bullets (Big Life, 1993)
I listen to this now and just can't make any sense of why I failed to latch onto Mega City Four during prior attempts. I mean, what a great mix of dreary atmospherics and restrained pop-punk through a jangly indie vibe. That fuzzed-out solo, the undeniably hooky chorus… man, I'm dumb sometimes. Better late than never, as always, but I'm pretty annoyed at myself for not "getting it" much sooner on this one.
I almost clicked on Senseless Things to follow (I should have!), but then I saw Chapterhouse and the cover art intrigued me…
Chapterhouse, "Pearl," from Whirlpool (Dedicated/RCA, 1991)
...until I saw it larger and realized it was a cat photo. Fuck.
Chapterhouse is another U.K. act, and this song comes from their first full-length. I don't listen to much that would necessarily qualify as "dream pop," but this screams "dream pop" to me, for what it's worth. Not bad, but it doesn't grab me, which is honestly why I think this genre has largely escaped my collection thus far. The majority of what I hear of this nature strikes me as perfectly listenable, but a touch too monotonous and one-sided, without any moments of particular emphasis that jump out at me. There's a nice atmosphere here, and the electronic elements add a touch of differentiation, I suppose, but… yeah, it's just a little same-y throughout.
Alison's Halo, "Dozen" (Independent Project, 1994)
I'm worried that I might get stuck in a "meh" rut here of stuff that's fine, but unexciting. From Tempe, AZ, Alison's Halo feels similar to Chapterhouse while leaning toward a shoegaze sound. There's a little more rise and fall and density at times, which helps. It's easy enough to listen to, but doesn't quite compel me to dig deeper. That being said, this is the A-side of a 7" from 1994, and it looks like the band never released an album, which somehow intrigues me a bit.
This tune was presented with a bunch of stuff I've never heard of: Pinkshinyultrablast, Lightfoils, Still Corners… this is a tough call…
Here, "Haze," from Swirl (Indies, 1993)
This is another selection largely made based on the tiny thumbnail of the album cover, and I'm already diggin' this so far. A hint darker and more somber. The vocals are less prominent, and I like the way they're buried in amidst the music. The production as a whole seems pulled back a touch, which makes the buildups less drastic, though that could just be the shitty YouTube compression? Either way, there's something about the aesthetic here that has a sadness to it that's hitting the spot for me. I'll definitely explore this band further.
Fuck, the longer this goes on, the more psyched I'm getting, so of course I looked them up and they were from the Czech Republic and this CD sells for fuckin' $150+. God damnit, leave it to me to get the most excited about the one band whose material is super rare and collectible!
Forsaken Autumn, "Vanish Into the Air," from Whenere (Luuv Label, 2015)
I couldn't pass by a name like Forsaken Autumn, who ends up presenting some relatively straightforward shoegaze with vocals that are slightly reminiscent of Cocteau Twins at times. This one dates back only a few years, however, and this time from Shanghai, China. Still, this composition kinda drifts back into the "meh" zone for me. Not bad, but nothing special, and perhaps a touch too unoriginal.
It's interesting that this is the path I've been presented with starting from Mega City Four, as I wouldn't particularly associate them with this "dreamgaze" niche. Again, I'm seeing tons of options I've never heard of: Hope Chest, Marine Time Keepers, Sound of Ceres, Lyca Sleep, etc.
That Uncertain Feeling, "Sunriser" (Dead Dead Good, 1991)
Back to the U.K. here, and fuck yeah! This is what I'm talkin' about, right away. Interesting band name, cool cover art, and a surprisingly fast-paced and bass-centric post-punk sound that has an almost Cure-ishness to it on occasion. Catchy writing, too. Flipout mode engaged! I'm all over this, it totally rules. I swear, if I look this up on Discogs and it's $100, I'm sticking my head in the toilet.
This is precisely why I'm constantly obsessed with hearing as much music as possible. I mean, this is an absolutely killer single from over 25 years ago that I never would've heard otherwise, from a band I cannot recall having ever seen mentioned before, not even once. Insane!
Shit, I like this even more than the Mega City Four track that I kicked off with! I can't imagine anything else topping "Sunriser" in this go-round.
Half String, "Hue," from Eclipse * Oval * Hue (Independent Project/Pop Goes On, 1995)
Huh, another band from Arizona, that's a weird coincidence. Looks like this one was recorded in 1993 and released on a collection of EPs/assorted tracks two years later. I really wanted to love this because I quite appreciate the emo-ish aesthetic of their artwork and the excellent packaging on this disc in particular, but… my initial reaction is that this is another decent-yet-bland selection. The vocals are just too lifeless. It's a slightly atypical approach that does have an emo/indie edge to it, and—as with all of the above—it's not bad, but simply doesn't do it for me. Damn.
The majority of YouTube's "up next" options are starting to rehash now, so I may have to give in and click on something that I've already passed over a few times…
Hope Chest, "Three," from Kite String Romances (Best Kept Secret, 2004)
...which brings me to Hope Chest, from El Cerrito, CA. The image obviously makes it seem as though this song might be from a demo, so I could be setting myself up for massive disappointment if I dig it. Perhaps thankfully, then, I'm not really feelin' this. More jangly, swirling, dream pop-type stuff. I definitely enjoy the bass presence, but it actually seems slightly out of tune. Apparently the band formed in the early-'90s, so I'm not sure if this cassette is a reissue or what. Either way, it's not for me, sorry…
Dråpe, "Wanted You to Stay," from Canicular Days (Riot Factory/Sad Songs for Happy People, 2013)
Had to try the Scandinavian option here. Dråpe hails from Oslo, Norway and I have to give them credit for putting their own spin on a familiar sound so that it remains rooted in obvious influences but still comes across as different enough to set itself apart. This is a pretty cool take on the ethereal 'gaze/dream thing, with some subtle post-rock and arguably even folk-tinged characteristics. Probably not something I'd end up buying, but I respect what they're doing, and may well investigate further.
Can I make the last pick count here?
Devilish Dear, These Sunny Days (Midsummer Madness, 2017)
Another eye-catching cover drew me in on this trio out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Self-described as "soundboard-gazer," like Dråpe, I have to respect that they're doing something different with familiar sounds. The lush vocals are placed waaay back in the mix when present, and the bulk of the album seems largely instrumental—loaded with ethereal textures; warped, uneasy tides; electronic accoutrements; and even some strange, ever-so-slightly industrialized psych-rock undercurrents. I believe this is their debut outing, and it's a name your price download on Bandcamp, so… while it doesn't blow me away, the material pushes boundaries such that there's really no excuse not to check it out in greater detail. Intriguing, for sure.