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Old 04-02-2010, 11:19 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I have a lot of work to do in the next week, so this will likely be my last entry for some time to come. As an extension of my last post, this represents (again, from my perspective) the second core influence on shoegaze. However, unlike Cocteau Twins, I’m not referring to a particular artist's entire works but a production aesthetic on an album that soon earned favor with shoegaze bands across the spectrum.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking about the Jesus and Mary Chain’s first LP Psychocandy, which has since been hailed as one of the definitive noise pop records. Perhaps one of the first records to use feedback expansively as a songwriting mechanism, Psychocandy itself is rather simply written, but crafted a completely different canvas for shoegaze artists to use as a medium. The characteristic feedback washes that denote shoegaze didn’t exist prior to this album. And despite the Jesus and Mary Chain’s lengthy and prosperous career, they never quite managed to return to the same distinctive sound that Psychocandy is so fondly remembered for.

When I suggest that Psychocandy is simple, it really is simple. The bass lines follow the guitar chords almost uniformly, there are very few (and very abrupt at that) solos, all drums are recorded between a snare and kick drum (performed stand-up style, a la Maureen Tucker). So what’s the big deal?

First and foremost, the songs themselves are rather impressive. Despite their apparent simplicity, Jim and William Reid manage to crank out a set of deliberately straightforward yet undeniably catchy pop songs. The interplay between the diminutive nasal recordings and the droney, scratchy guitar is one of the most unusually appealing elements to the music. Drawing from influences like the Velvet Underground and the Beach Boys, Psychocandy managed to fuse abrasive feedback and simple melodies – and do it well.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most ostensible influences of Psychocandy is the deliberate use of feedback as a songwriting media. Prior to that, feedback was considered undesirable in recording and musicians took measures to avoid looping signals. Psychocandy opened up the landscape of feedback’s potential to extend beyond testosterone-fueled garage and punk rock and made it something to be adored rather than reviled. This influence is palpable throughout the rest of the shoegaze movement, from pioneers like Spacemen 3 to [insert latest gratuitous throwback out there today].

Perhaps worthy of note is the sheer balls that the Jesus and Mary Chain had for doing all this. Early JAMC shows were characterized by ten-minute sets of guitars drenched in distortion and barely comprehensible vocals. Ending sets early earned them notoriety for causing mayhem; these guys were not worshipped by their followers -- they were detested. In this author's humble opinion, Psychocandy was just another way of telling everybody to fuck off.

While it’s not the stuff for everyone, the marriage of feedback to honey-sweet melodies earned Psychocandy its rightful place in history as one of shoegaze’s biggest influences. Check it out.

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