Sometimes you hear a song and you just know. That time was a little over two weeks ago, and I was – as per usual – listening to Henry Rollins spin music on KCRW (episode 676 to be exact). The first notes immediately brought college in the early 90s, discovering this whole world of jangly chords and reverb that would soon replace (for a time) all the hair metal and screaming I grew up with. The song was “She Spins” from IV, the latest album from shoegaze/indie pop band Letting Up Despite Great Faults. Their first proper album in eight years, it reaches back to a time where I was constantly thrown off balance by all the new sensory input a kid experiencing the new worldview college away from home offers, and it does it with a forward thrust that completely leans into the style without feeling like a dated retread.
It starts with the brief instrumental “Kisses”, introducing the sonic landscape we’re going to traverse over the next 29 minutes: light, airy melodies that hide a deeper, melancholic lyrical message. When “Corners Pressed” chimes in we’re presented with the syrupy vocals of Mike Lee (who also plays guitar)and as he wends his way through there melody and verses I get the distinct sense there’s more at play than a simple recreation of a time or mood. Lyrically IV gets at feelings of loss, love that doesn’t quite meet the scenarios we imagine, and how we plunge ahead anyway. “Softly, Bravely” with its straight ahead pop percussion states as much when Lee intones:
I want to be yours, and every time, well that's of course I know you don't care, you tell me that it's not fair You round me out now but will you use the sharp edfe on my head There's something inside, self-sabotage
I get lost in the swirling drive of “Gorgeous” and the more classic jangle of “New Ground” with its dew-eyed naivety of meeting and worrying about revealing too much in that first encounter. The production is thick but you clearly hear every nuance, the washes of synths never burying the individual instruments, letting everything comes together. At only 29 minutes the intent of the album is too convey a particular mood, so the lack of real distinction between songs isn’t something I’m really concerned about. Each time I put it on I’m left in a haze of nostalgia that’s clear enough allow me to appreciate what’s happening and confirm that yes, Letting Up Despite Great Faults hits me in the childhood feels and I’m perfectly okay with that. By the time “She Spins” comes back around (it’s on the Side 2 of the vinyl, and makes me appreciate the sequencing even more) it feels like an old friend I’ve already been talk to for the last 20 minutes.
Is that a bad thing, though? When I listen I don’t want a lot of twists and turns that take the genre and put it on its head. I want something that’s effective, shimmering and pretty and I want it to mainly bring me back to a simpler time, even though at the time it was anything but simple. I hear something like the simple, plaintive “Curl” and I can’t help but think about sitting on the bus, listening to The Cure on the way to school (there are instances where the shoegaze of IV takes a definitive detour into 80s emo – the beginning of closing track “Self Portrait” certainly leans into its Cure-ness). Sometimes when you’re approaching 50 and life is insane it’s nice to remember what it felt like being 17, sitting on the bus and thinking that you’re the only one who really gets the music, that it’s speaking only to you.
Letting Up Despite Great Faults brings me back there, and that’s a thing of wonder, even if it only lasts 29 minutes.