Reviews

These are reviews that have been pulled over from the original Alcian Blue website. If you are interested in reviewing the Collection Cassette release, please contact jake (at) icestationstudio.com

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

Hailing from Washington, DC, Alcian Blue has finally released their S/T debut full-length on Elephant Stone Records. Their selection of new-gaze releases throughout the past years has been a common staple in my cd player and this new disc is no exception. Although their past discs have been new-gaze centered, their new tunes are infused with the best of 80’s influences.

“Horizons” kicks of this full-length with siren style noises. Clangs punctuate the buzz as deep bass begins to punctuate the speakers. Keys elevate and bring back memories of early Depeche Mode or New Order with a twist. The vocals are deep and ominous, chanting in the midst of oceans of keys and bass. Channeling the likes of the 80’s greats, this tune infuses shoegaze layers and overwhelming walls of sounds. “71705” begins with a danceable set of drums and brings keys to the fore. Again, this is classic 80’s synth-dance. The music is infectious. I have long awaited someone to write music like this again and to perform it correctly. Dark, powerful, and infectious, “71705” has all the right elements and more. Glittering, layered guitars punctuate the final moments of the track, bringing it to a close as analog synth peters out.

“You Just Disappear” has a bass-line that is fantastic and it floats between driving drums and forceful keys. The high-hat chimes in that speedy fashion as the rest of the unit keep their slower tempo. The dissonance is fantastic. As the dance motions end, the keyboard fades. “Night Sky” is a slow tempo track with echoing vocals that shimmer amongst the keys and percussion. The track is haunting and ethereal. “Frozen Sleep” is less organic in its entrance. The vocals are embedded in the mix and are ghost like. The tempo of the percussion is fast while the keys and vocals are slow and languid. The pounding, fuzzy percussion punctuates and builds along with layers of noise. “Caroline” is a melancholy piece with quiet vocals, sparse keys and acoustic guitar. Beautiful and patient, it is a perfect place in the disc for this piece.

“This Day This Age” is a keyboard and percussion driven piece. The vocals are deep and foreboding again. The great age of dance synth is back and this sort of music should be blaring from the turn table of DJ’s all over the country. Gothic in tone, but energized to the listeners delight, Alcian Blue explode into your speakers with ferocity and darkness. “Turn Away” has a straightforward beat with deep vocals. While the track seems pretty simple at first, the shoegaze guitars come into the mix and fill out the spacey keyboards. The swirling layers of guitar are beautiful and soaring.

“See You Shine” begins with a great beat and vocals that hearken back to early Psychedelic Furs. Tambourine accents the beat and the drums pulse under spacey guitars. “Terminal Escape” explodes as it hits the speakers. Guitars soar and fuzz as keys add to the walls of sound. Chaotic percussion and walls of sound play under haunting vocals. This song is an assault on the senses and finishes this disc with all the elements of the band in great form.

Alcian Blue has carved out a sound for themselves in the vast majority of copy-cat bands. New-gaze is getting more and more diverse and Alcian Blue has certainly broken the mold. –Jason (December 2006)

Somewhere Cold

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

Elements like dream-pop, shoegazer, ambient, trance, and electronica all pervade Alcian Blue’s latest independent self-titled release. The sonic films of synth and guitars have touchstones of icons like Joy Division, The Cure, New Order, Slowdive, and Sisters of Mercy. But Alcian Blue isn’t yesteryear’s music. There are clusters of “nü-gazer” artists like Hundred Year Storm, The States, The Gray Escape, and the UK’s Goldfrapp and Dubrovnik, who along with Alcian Blue are making mammoth walls of synth and guitars exciting again.

The tranquilizing electro-rock panes on the opening track “Horizons” build up with progressive frames along the husky, sepulchral vocals, which move through the synth funnels and hazy screens of sound. Like a video director who has discovered the excitement of filming an ocean wave in progress close up, Alcian Blue has found excitement in making music that represents the motions of that ocean wave. The music is emotional on an ethereal plane but still has universal meaning. Who wouldn’t enjoy the excitement of riding an ocean wave? Like Alcian Blue’s music, there is something elating about it that affects everyone.

Alcian Blue initially had a drummer, Clark Stacey, in 2001 when they formed, but according to frontman Jake Reid, he departed from the band in 2005 when he joined the Air Force. The band chose not to replace their drummer whom they knew since high school, but rather filled in the drum parts with scripted programs. The downside to the methodical beats is that the music has its limitations. After a few tracks into the album, the series blend into each other and the songs have a sameness quality. The thruways of blissfulness, the sustained keyboard tones, the luxuriating wavelengths, and the trance-like spheres and strobes are recurrent.

Even with recurring streams of similar instrumentation, the songs are still intriguing and seduce the listener into their channels. The eerie, weighty tones on “You Just Disappear” have a western country lamina. The violins woven into “Night Sky” build a classical continuum while the imaginary turns on “Frozen Sleep” instill a soft glaze over the graceful flow of instrumentation. The production work is bulky with tones that wash over the rhythmic movements, like on “Turn Away.” The tambourine jingles on “See You Shine” course through the wavelengths of keyboard processions. The album concludes with “Terminal Escape” filled with dance/club beats, rinses of keyboard sprays, and Germanic-tinted vocals, which give the song a Gothic impression.

Alcian Blue has created an album that makes “nu-gazer” a viable music form to be reckoned with today. Alcian Blue doesn’t have many predecessors from their region but does share domains with the electronica bands from the UK and around the world, finding excitement in the motions of trance-like waves. –Susan Frances (October 2006)

Treble Magazine

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

It might have taken five years, but Washington, DC’s Alcian Blue have finally managed to find a niche that suits them. While their earlier EPs were obviously influenced by the ’90s shoegazers like Slowdive and Swervedriver, their first album finds them taking a sideways step to add a welcome new dimension to their music. That doesn’t mean they’ve completely turned their back on their old sound — they’ve simply refined it in a most satisfying way. Alcian Blue, their debut full-length, sees the band turning back the clock even further than previously. With a gloomier sound that is reminiscent of Joy Division and the Cure (circa Pornography), it leans a lot more heavily on keyboards than they have in the past. In part, that might be due to some personnel changes in the band — the drummer left only to be replaced by a drum machine — but there are still enough waves of feedback to validate the earlier My Bloody Valentine comparisons. With their new loudness has come greater focus and, to be perfectly honest, better songs too. They don’t quite have the grade-A material for an entire album yet. There’s a bit of a lull near the middle where the songs lose their way, but it ends strongly and the band have shown enough growth to suggest that the best is probably yet to come. -Michael Edwards, 2006

Exclaim! exclaim.ca

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

Connecting the dots between the post-punk sounds of Joy Division and Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark, among others, and the shoegazer sound, Alcian Blue masters its gloomy yet inspiring sound. The enveloping soundscapes are quite compelling. The near-instrumental “Frozen Sleep” is a great introduction to the band’s sound. A pulse of percussion and layers of keyboards and guitars are washed over in reverb, with a voice barely penetrating this aural fog. The vocal follows the melody line being played on one keyboard. There is another melody snaking through, while the rest of the instruments modulate in an up-and-down pattern. This is a very simple composition, but the way they put it all together turns it into something large and impressive. The band follows this track with the naked, spartan “Caroline”, as the keyboards again modulate, while an acoustic guitar part is gently played. It is very sad and moving, even with no memorable lyrics to touch upon. The same soundscapes are mixed in with some Joy Division-style post-punk on “Terminal Escape”, aided by a deep grim lead vocal, and some creative percussion. Folks in college radio in the ’80s will gravitate towards “71705”, which would have fit in with the great British post-punk bands of the era. This may not be groundbreaking, but Alcian Blue has their sound down cold, and does some great things with these familiar components. -Fufkin.com

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

The debut full-length by this Arlington, Virginia outfit serves as compendium of the history of dream-pop, from its dawn-of-the-eighties parturition between the legs of goth-rock through the mid-nineties folding of that first wave of shoegazers. Guitarist and vocalist Jake Reid has that low-pitched and faux-deadpan seriousness of, say, Joy Division/New Order down pat, heard particularly well on the two opening tracks, and doubtless aided by the touchstone for that time, a drum-machine. The record then delves into dream-pop proper, recalling the statelier, ambient sounds of bands such as Bethany Curve (on tracks like “Night Sky”) before falling onto their forebear, Slowdive. “Caroline” is as gently hypnotic as anything on Pygmalion. Elsewhere there are traces of just about everyone else in the story: the Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, Ride, edging at times toward My Bloody Valentine (live, apparently, Alcian Blue give Kevin Shields’ well-muscled amplifiers a run for the money). What sets this band apart from the current crop of shoegaze-redux kids is its willingness to look beyond those obvious influences, to crawl back into the womb in order to demonstrate how these sounds quickened, focusing not just on the dots, but the (sometimes dashed) lines which connect them. -(Michael Meade), 2006

Skyscraper Magazine

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

It will be interesting to see if this boat has already left or if Alcian Blue will still have time to connect with the (let’s face it) suckers who bought the She Wants Revenge disc. People want some authenticity, even in their 80s gloom-worshipping bands, and they might be gunshy about Alcian Blue after the SWR debacle. AB’s debut LP has more in common with the 1st Interpol record than with the confuzzled pseudo-goth of every wannabe band that drafted in on Interpol’s energy. Synths, drum machines, swooning guitars, murkiness, hushed vocals and lots of pedals are in the arsenal. Not to put too fine a point on it, but (in a blender) mix The Cure’s “17 Seconds,” New Order’s “Movement,” and My Bloody Valentine’s “Isn’t Anything,” pour over ice, add garnish, and you’ve just created the Alcian Blue martini. In case you don’t know, all 3 of those albums are certified classics, so AB’s onto something cool. Only a couple of these songs are on the front foot enough to get crowd to stop staring at their gothy shoes, but those faster songs (“Terminal Escape” and “This Day This Age”) are pretty killer. Elsewhere they steal Flying Saucer Attack’s pedals (“Frozen Sleep”) and pay homage to Joy Division with some purposefully flat vocals. Perhaps there is a touch of the self-conscious about Alcian Blue, as if at times they said “let’s make a Flying Saucer Attacky song!” instead of just writing their own music, but then again all of the above mentioned bands also had an early infatuation with themselves. AB certainly approach these classic bands as devotees and their DIY efforts at recreating some of these studio masterpieces without Martin Hannett and mountains of drugs is admirable. The drum machine is also made to be a brother of the more primitive stylings employed by early goth purveyors, but to significant effect. I’m not sure that a real drummer would help, and in fact might rob the band of some darkness. By this point, you should know if this is a record you need to hear, just from the bands I’m comparing them with. Favorite song is split between “Night Sky” and “Terminal Escape.” The song styles and vocals vary fairly significantly from track to track, as well as production techniques, so this album feels like it was a long time a-coming. Sometimes it is a blast of fresh air when someone reinvents the wheel. –(July 2006)

Leeds

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

Having expanded to a four-piece for its full-length debut effort, Alcian Blue, led by the husband/wife team of Jake and Kim Reid, takes a turn through the gothier side of shoegaze, drawing on the massively echo/reverb-laden work of both Slowdive and Lycia to find an elegant synthesis. Jake’s singing at various points can only be called sepulchral, as his deep croon right from the start on “Horizons” extends an already set tone thanks to the descending riffs and buried, spindly feedback wails. Initially it seems that Alcian Blue’s stumbling block would be a fairly monolithic approach in this vein — Lycia, indeed, can carry off a full album exploring one particular mood and sound but it’s not for everyone to try. So when the band take a different turn on “You Just Disappear” with how well it works a Cure-into-This Ascension style (helped by Jake pulling back some on his delivery), the sign that Alcian Blue aren’t going to be one note is a welcome one. Other turns into a strong variety within a general framework can be heard with the psych/fuzz drive of “This Day This Age” — suggesting what Swervedriver would have been had they gone for black clothes and makeup both — and the striking, brawling closer “Terminal Escape,” ending the album on a full-on rock-out note. Meantime, when the group fully embraces the Slowdive in its soul, as on the majestic drowned-sound of “Night Sky” and the more propulsive “See You Shine,” everything is bliss(out) once again. There’s even a hint of the explosive blurriness of Lovesliescrushing on “Frozen Sleep,” albeit at a generally lower volume than that band — until it gets towards the end! –Ned Raggett (July 2006)

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

To say that Alcian Blue is influenced by shoegaze legends like My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive would do a disservice–this DC foursome is every bit as relevant. Shoegaze music, with its heavily processed guitars and synthetic soundscapes, has always remained an underground phenomenon and until it breaks through to a larger audience, its essential canon is still being formed. “Alcian Blue,” the group’s first full length, belongs in that canon alongside classics like “Loveless” or “Souvlaki.” For a band known for their deafening volume in a live setting, Alcian Blue has made an album that is melancholy, haunting and affecting–it prompts the listener to feel as well as hear. With an excellently programmed drum machine and indistinguishable instrumentation, these songs feel otherworldly–industrial, yet somehow completely natural and comfortable. Chris Connelly

On Tap Magazine

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

FOR MOST ROCK musicians, the drum machine is both a convenience and a constriction; its methodical beats tend to hold songs in check. But there have been a few bands — among them Big Black, the Three Johns and the Sisters of Mercy — that have overwhelmed their electronic timekeepers and pressed beyond the tick-tock rhythms. Now add to that short list Alcian Blue, a local quartet whose new self-titled (and skillfully self-produced) album begins with synthbeats but moves well past them.

Thanks to singer-guitarist Jake Reid’s deep-timbred vocals and the quartet’s penchant for stately cadences, Alcian Blue does sound a bit like the Sisters of Mercy, notably on the album-opening “Horizons.” The band’s list of influences is much longer than that but is heavy on art-punk groups that, like the Sisters, arose in northern Britain in the ’80s. Much of the album has a gliding, filmy sound, with sustained keyboard tones and cooing female vocals layered with Reid’s voice, which is usually treated as just another instrument. Some of this material may be too dense (“Frozen Sleep”) or delicate (“Caroline”) to have a full life outside the studio, but other songs support Alcian Blue’s reputation as an aggressive live band. Driven by what might be live drums, “Terminal Escape” surges toward the exit, raucous and unbridled. – Mark Jenkins

The Washington Post

Alcian Blue – Alcian Blue

For a band that has long had a reputation as one of the noisiest in the city, Alcian Blue has made one pretty album. There have always been atmospheric soundscapes under the wall of guitars, but when you trade in a drummer for a keyboard player and drum machine, things mellow out even more. Alcian’s self-titled album on Elephant Stone Records sounds less like the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine and more like the lost 4AD from 1989 — think Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance. – David Malitz

The Washington Post

Alcian Blue – Translucent EP

Throwing on the new Translucent EP by Alcian Blue is an experience to be relished. The first ten seconds of opening track Angelica Take Me Down gives you (by my count) six progressive layers of filtered distortion before something of a guitar hook mixes in and the song begins to take form. The structure of the song keeps swirling these noises in and out at different volumes as a few sparse lyrics are offered to give the song some context. Most of the four tracks on this EP are mixed together consecutively though, so it is hard to keep track of where you are on the EP without checking the track number on your CD player. The spray painted CD case has a page that lets you know the song titles, which is good, because you wouldnt be able to figure them out otherwise.

Song #2 is called Silvers Sleep Walk, and this brings out a bit of a hypnotic daze in their sound that almost overshadows the noisily constructed background layers. By the time this fades out and into Everyday is Fall, my mind wanders off into different thoughts, and the rock opening of this third track wakes me up from my daydreaming. The refrain is sort of a swelling of sounds that makes it fun to listen to the drum-beats as they fade in and out of recognition.

The release closes with Translucent, which is probably my favorite here. It has sort of a haunting mood that starts things off, but you can feel the anticipation as the song builds into a noisier territory. Crashing cymbals and echoing reverb fight for your attention before everything collapses into an unexpected closure. Sure, its only four songs long, but if I program my CD player for repeat, this EP can entertain me for hours. – Danny Rowe

Left Off The Dial