by Jen Bender (@JennifaBenda)
Shoegaze has interested me since the very first time I heard My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless on a long, rainy car ride through western Massachusetts. I was happily confused by the sounds that seemed to contradict one another - soothing vocals embedded deep within droning walls of guitar and relentless drums, a sound so loud and yet so calming. The more I explore the genre as it currently exists the more I realize that not all shoegaze is created equal - it has certainly evolved since the Loveless days, retaining many of the drone-y characteristics I’ve come to love but simultaneously exploring new sounds. Bands have begun to push the boundaries of genre in a unique and satisfying way, and San Francisco’s Cruel Summer is a prime example. They are a group of voyagers into this uncharted territory, and their album Ivy is a joyful, dreamy blend of everything you might love about shoegaze and everything you thought shoegaze could never be.
Ivy maintains an upbeat momentum that carries the album on a wave from its opening moments through to its final track. The melancholy that is so often present in shoegaze is sprinkled carefully and intentionally throughout the album, like in the penultimate track, “Lavender” - but this melancholy is far less frequent than the sounds of joy that remind me of sunshine and ocean waves. My favorite track by far is “Trust,” a tune that artfully captures the contentedness of a day at the beach. Thea Chacamaty’s sweet voice urges the listener to trust in the water, the music, and in herself (and in my case, it worked like a charm. I’d go swimming with Chacamaty any day). The momentum of the album reaches its peak in the final track, “Leeches,” in which the vocals break through the dreamy decibels of guitar with power and intention. Andy Pastalaniek’s drumming is another element of Ivy that makes it unique - his rhythms are focused and present, carrying that momentum set out in the first tracks, but his drumming never quite disenchants us from the wash of sound ever-present in the guitar and bass, that drone-like essence that makes shoegaze what it is. Much like my first experience with Loveless I was drawn to Ivy because of the contradictions in sound that somehow work perfectly together.
Cruel Summer is proof that shoegaze is alive and well, at least in San Francisco. The band is doing some creative, compelling work with a genre that is so often elusive - besides being an interesting act of musicianship, Ivy is also simply a joy to experience from beginning to end. If you need further convincing, take a listen to Ivy and let it take you somewhere warmer.