I remember when, not too long ago, the word “shoegaze” was shunned. It was deemed foolish to classify your music in this way, as though the term should have been left with the gatekeepers, his Lordship Kevin Shields, Queen Rachel Goswell and the court jester, Andy Bell. Fast forward in time, and we arrive in 2019, an age where anything with reverb gets tarred with the shoegaze brush. The genre has entered a renaissance, with many musicians aiming for that wall of noise. And despite my mocking of this modern obsession with the word, I am actually really excited. Many acts are examining the cathedrals that were constructed by bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride and asking, “What elements of this architecture can be applied to a modern sound?”, taking the foundations and constructing around them to create some unexpected and highly interesting sub-genres and styles. And the results, in numerous cases, have been truly interesting and a joy to experience, as someone who was too young to live through the genre’s early incarnation.
Some bands, however, are more interested in that “pure” shoegaze sound, Tennis System, seemingly falling in that category. On their latest single taken from their forthcoming album Lovesick (a hint to MBV’s seminal album Loveless, perhaps?), the LA-based three-piece have penned a love letter to the genre once coined as “The scene that celebrates itself”. And that’s exactly what this song does. It does not shy away from its influences; it boldly presents them and quite expertly impersonates them. But in this new landscape of sub-genres and the exploration of what shoegaze can be, do Tennis System do enough to stand out?
From the outset, it’s beyond apparent who the band are influenced by. You’d almost be forgiven for questioning whether you’d accidentally hit play on a My Bloody Valentine B-side. The swirling guitars, accompanied by a dreamy, swaying melody of indistinguishable origin (most likely guitar) borrows so heavily from the groundbreaking sound of Loveless that it’s actually impressive how closely they recreate it. But taken on its own merit, it’s a beautiful song, topped with a captivating chord sequence. The thick, fuzz-drenched guitar is truly stunning, backed by an incredible drum performance, something which is often neglected to the background to make way for more guitars. Instead, Garren Orr is left to hack away at his equipment, with impressive, but not overstated drum fills bringing the “power” to this power trio.
Structurally, the single doesn’t sway too far from its course. Thick, heavy, powerful section – clean, dreamy verse – thick, heavy, powerful section – clean, dreamy verse. Once again, this is a hymn taken from the shoegaze songbook, and could quite easily see Tennis System lost amongst a tidal wave of current acts following this trend. The band do, however, treat the listener to an outpouring of energy in the final act. Following a simple, bass-led breakdown, the record explodes into a punky crescendo, allowing all three members to double down on the noise and thrash out the familiar chords that make up the track. It’s exciting, loud and shows they aren’t afraid of turning the tap on all the way every once in a while.
As the first taste of an upcoming album, Shelf Life is a good starter. It will capture the attention of the shoegaze crowds quite effortlessly. As soon as they hear frontman Matty Taylor playing with whammy bar in hand, they’ll be on board for the duration. It gives the audience what they want and expect. But I do fear that they could be limiting themselves by borrowing so heavily from their forefathers. This is an act with real energy under their skin, shown in the last breaths of this single, and I hope that on Lovesick, they let that energy flourish a little more and that they don’t instead deliver an album that sounds too much like something we’ve all heard and loved before.