[sic] Magazine

A Grave With No Name – Mountain Debris

When shitgaze was coined in order to successfully bracket the lo-fi and niche shoegaze of Psychedelic Horseshit the puerile amongst us sniggered and the sceptical furrowed their brows. Nevertheless, and perhaps mysteriously, they remained its near-sole practitioners until now.

Lo-fi has since gone high demand and fuzz washes have become widespread. Brilliant Colors did it with indie-pop, Times New Viking with garage-punk, Manhattan Love Suicides with the C86 revival, Vivian Girls with garage-rock and so on. Woods successfully invited a little folk to the party, but no matter the frill, at the heart of most of these records lay pop and so does it on Mountain Debris. Though, and in both its senses, it’s very well hidden.

Just like stereotype, cliché has grounding in truth and to say that Mountain Debris sends shivers down the spine is to deal in both. The strong melodies found on the album invite the spinal nerve to course with unquantifiable ripples of excitement and marvellously it also possesses the tunes to back them up.

Originally appearing late last year on import from Lefse Records, the ever impeccable No Pain In Pop label have picked up Mountain Debris for a UK 2010 release. Partly recorded in a converted church and partly in bedrooms, certain tracks thus roam the album’s cavernous spaces; others tellingly hug sonically-challenged bedroom equipment.

A Grave With No Name is primarily Alex (no known relation to Kevin) Shields. Astrud Steehouder occasionally rounds out the vocals, Tom King sometimes the bass and Anupa Madawela infrequently the drums. Together, they run with the folk-influenced template that Woods laid down on parts of the superlative Songs Of Shame, but they place shoegaze, reverb and acoustic strumming equally on the same pedestal all the while.

The hybrid that Shields duly creates is quite astonishing and it’s genuinely refreshing to have tinny production and echo applied with effort and meaning. The key to Mountain Debris however is its variety. Although lazy comparison to My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain is occasionally valid, such casual typecasting is altogether inadvisable on such a thrillingly awkward album.

Shields’ vocal is otherworldly to the point of Jonathan Donahue on helium. Elsewhere it’s in its own space entirely, bathed in fuzz and infinitely distant on the spectral and special “We Parted Ways At Mt. Jade”. The echo-y atmospherics of Bon Iver are invoked by the ever-so-pretty “Stone Setting” as well as by the outrageously catchy “Open Water”. It layers enviable touch onto deft skill as Shields mumbles “I love you” and “I fucked up” alternately amid bubbling water. In doing so, it reprises a similar babble housed in the otherwise ambling scene-setter “The Sun Rises”.

Many of these tracks have seen blog love of late and “Sofia” is no different, providing a determined march through heavy reverb as it goes. The production plunges to demo-quality on “Lavender” as an error-strewn strum breaks into neither Kevin Shields nor the Reid brothers repertoires but comes close to a perfect midpoint all the same. Moreover, the dinosaur-in-its-death-throes eruption in “Horses” seems at least to suggest a thorough understanding of the expectation that comes with the name Shields.

The huge surge of feedback in “Silver” comes backed with a pulsing beat. Tears are jerked on “Underpass”, which contains the same lingering piano chime as “Hurt” and its cleaner sound is well matched with Shields’s highest-pitch vocal. On the melancholic closer “The Path To Mt. Jade” the soft strumming returns to shift from speaker to speaker with audible chord progressions as Shields mumbles “I walked alone” repeatedly.

It’s bleak but it’ll win him sufficient admirers to avoid having to walk alone in the future and deservedly so because Shields has produced an album that for all the world sounds like the first steps of a major talent. It’s quite simple; Mountain Debris is the first great record of the decade.