If you thought that shoe-gaze was finally dead, and consigned to the annals of musical history, then you need to hear this new collaboration between Robin Guthrie, the man responsible for the ethereal guitar sounds in the Cocteau Twins, and Mark Gardener the frontman from the band Ride.
Following their one-off 2012 collaboration The Places We Go, the duo have justifiably released a whole album of the luscious dream-pop that made the 2012 effort just so good, and it goes by the name of Universal Road.
Guthrie’s trademark multi-layered musical soundscapes prove to be an almost perfect setting for Gardener’s gentle wisp of a voice, and the album ends up as a serendipitous meeting of musical minds. The ten songs contained on the album, are mostly gentle and subdued ballads, lead by Guthrie’s echoing guitars, and filled in by pillowy synth sounds, supported by a busy but never obtrusive rhythm section.
Gardener proves right at home in the setting, imbuing his introspective lyrics with some wisdom and cushioning his tender lead vocals with soft harmonies. It’s not the kind of album that leaps out at the listener, demanding for attention or dazzling with hooks or instrumental dexterity. This is an album that will benefit from repeated listenings, before enabling the listener to finally inhabit the songs, and soak in the sounds.
Even the noisier songs that call to mind Ride’s classic sound are so fluffy and soft to the touch that the distortion just kind of gets swept up into the cloud of melancholic reserve. That’s not a bad thing at all and it makes for a peaceful, comforting listening experience.
Those looking for something more dramatic or energetic will need to look elsewhere, as these two are far more interested in creating a refined, calmly introspective mood. To that end, Universal Road succeeds and shows how powerful a true collaboration like this can be when done the right way.
Whilst this record quite possibly won’t reach the acclaim of the duo’s seminal previous work, Universal Road is still a beautiful collection of songs, that clearly demonstrates that the pair haven’t lost any of the talent that saw them plastered over the front pages of the NME and Melody Maker during that golden age for British indie bands of the late 1980s and early/mid 1990s.
It’s an album drenched in beautiful textures and ethereal sounds that could be one of 2015’s slow-burners.
The full track-listing for ‘Universal Road’ is as follows…