[sic] Magazine

A Grave With No Name – Lower

Late 2009 saw Alex Shields release one of the best records of recent years as A Grave With No Name . Then sounding for all the world like a major talent in the making, Shields is now back, but gone are the surging concessions to shoegaze of his Mountain Debris .

Whereas that debut impressively fused squalling eruptions onto echoing one-man-and-his-guitar singer-songwriting, Lower instead retreats to the same bedroom in which its predecessor was partly recorded, focusing on the barely-there lo-fi of that same record, often supplementing it with distant spoken samples.

Retaining the service of some of most sonically challenged equipment around, Lower duly presents itself in parts due to the limited cassette-only physical nature of its release. Part one, or side one, crackles and shuffles into life with a pleasant instrumental that bleeds into the embrace of “We Passed The Moon” – a killer cut ripe with dreamy hooks and gentle fuzz in which Shields proves himself a deft master at the sort of happy-sad sound so readily written off by the inattentive as miserable.

Following suit, the highly personal “Winter In Japan”, whose intimate slow strumming and hushed mumblings bring to mind the late Mark Linkous , then allows an intangible interlude to chime away sparsely to itself before the fragile and unplugged “By The Water’s Edge” reminds us of Shields’s vocal similarity with Jonathan Donahue .

Closing the side, “Khonnor” explores new territory not revisited on the flip – its cardboard-box percussion, spoken sample and bedroom glitch all combine to give the track a surprising air of introverted post-rock. Equally breaking new ground, side two’s opener, “Saskia”, adds to Shields’s trademark windblown folk with the slightest suggestion of spectral soul and/or ravaged R&B.

The tearful “Wooden Locket” then steers Lower back into more familiar waters, as its single-strum chords, strong melody and oceans of echo hit far heavier than the track’s sub-150 seconds might otherwise imply. Similar in structure, “I Know How Long She Haunts This Place” then welcomes back the same strains of ghostly piano last heard on Mountain Debris ‘ tear-jerker “Hurt”. In turn, the improbably titled “You. Me. Dead In A Shark Cage” plays with gentle sample chatter, ebbing back and forth amidst twinkling wind chimes.

It’s selfish to wish Shields’s eternal confinement to his bedroom, but when his resultant output is so invitingly intimate the worst thing in the world would be to have him discovered. Without the blustering sonics of shoegaze to support him, Shields is now more vulnerable, but he’s also cementing his own voice as a consequence. And, selfish or not, they’ll be few who’d want it any other way.

~Lower is out now on limited edition cassette on Boiled Egg .~

[sic] review: Mountain Debris

A Grave With No Name @ myspace