Sway, the sophomore LP from San Diego-to-New York shoegazers Tape Deck Mountain, attempts a kind of hypnotic induction, reeling you in with its mesmeric churn and plumes of reverb. When it works, it takes hold completely, engulfing your attention, encroaching on your thought processes. When it doesn't, well, you may just find yourself getting verrry sleepy. Sway's a far more captivating set than 2009's Ghost, but when the trance starts to falter, Sway's daze turns anesthetic.
Recorded between Austin and San Diego—with the drums and bass laid into 2" tape—Sway's sound is rarely less than stellar. Unlike the hiss-mired Ghost, which often sounded beamed in from afar, Sway is considerably more enveloping, placing the listener in the center of the storm. The brief symphonic feedback swell of opener "EGBDF" gives way to the detuned, downtrodden "Slow Hell", a Sonic Youth-esque bummer trip that finds a bleary Travis Trevisan recounting late-night drives and snorted breakfasts. Hero worship aside, the loping, ominous "Hell" could be the finest TDM track to date, all snarling guitars and red-eyed murmurings. But dream popper "Always Lie" gets bogged down by its helicoptering reverb, and "Half Life", despite its Kevin Shields-style whale-calls, eventually starts to meander.
Yet it's not until "That's You" that Sway starts to lose its hold. Built around a thudding, lockstep bassline, "That's You" plods along listlessly, taking its sweet time going nowhere. As Zach Kelly wrote in his review of Ghost, Tape Deck Mountain fare best "where guitars crash and sequencers explode." When they pull things back, as they do through much of the album's second half, the spell they cast elsewhere is broken in a way they struggle to recapture. "PI" is Sway at its most melodic, its cascading guitars and propulsive drums crashing into a giant yearning chorus. But it's quickly swallowed up by "Pretend Friends", a loud-quiet-loud proto-grunge nod that ambles along without much aim until a short, sidewinding solo slips into the frame halfway through. Things don't get much better from there: the torpid "Mystics" is a sketch in search of a song, while "PI II", despite a decent hook and some wriggly guitar interplay, takes a couple good ideas and runs them into the ground. Husher closer "Meta" smacks of Drum's Not Dead-era Liars, finding Trevisan moaning in watery falsetto over a hissing synthetic pulse. The focused intensity of "Meta" is a nice antidote to all the wandering that precedes it, but it finishes Sway with a whisper, when it could probably use another scream.
Between Trevisan's cryptic tone—save the up-front "Slow Hell", his vocals tend to get swallowed up, only the occasional muttering about Aleister Crowley floating to the surface—and his roundabout compositions, Sway's a tough record to get your head around. Though mercifully devoid of Ghost's overlong ambient interludes and its ghastly "asshole Larry" lyrics, between its pacing and grayscale palette, Sway's just too terse to for rapture and too noncommittal for mystery. Tape Deck Mountain's heavy-lidded narcosis can be transfixing, but when the songs start to drift, the mind starts to wander.
Hard and pretty isn’t a combination you come across very often, but when you do, it’ll sweep you off your feet.
Brooklyn-by-way-of-San-Diego project Tape Deck Mountain does just that with Sway, a beautiful, haunted collection of shoegaze ragers that soars from spectral roars to melodic whirlwinds with all the convection and sweat of Sonic Youth soundtracking a seance.
The duo comes in strong with “Slow Hell,” a foreboding dance of ember drum prods and increasingly rapturous guitar chugs that is eventually engulfed by its inherent angst. That’s quickly cooled by the lake water gush of the swampy but still engaged “Always Lie” — a gorgeous track that’s as powerful as vulnerable — and “Half Life.”
Sway moves from sparse, back alley moodiness (“That’s You”) to lulling, subdued dream pop (“Mystics”) from there, though it’s the back nine pair of “Pi” and “Pretend Friends” that really elevate Tape Deck Mountain’s new record from a solid noise rock affair to an infectious and melodically brilliant one.
The former enthralls with a steady series of pretty whispers that flare into furious cascades of ardent percussion and rousing guitar riffs in a dazzling back-and-forth. “Pretend Friends” operates under a similar protocol, but the shifts are all that much more dramatic, armed and ready to inspire impassioned air drum sessions from even the stiffest of listeners.
More so than most releases of this ilk, Sway maintains just enough control to hedge that line between tame and feral, and the hooks that would have otherwise got lost in the wild thrash are there for you to hum and listen to all over again.
released April 10, 2014
Travis Trevisan - Guitars, Keys, Voice
John Momberg - Drums
Dan Alvarez - Bass
Drums & Bass Recorded on 2" by Matt Oliver
Big Orange - Austin, TX
Guitars, Keys, & Vocals Recorded by Brandon Jenson
American Sound Studios - San Diego, CA
Mastered by Andy Ralph
NavajoSteel - Brooklyn, NY
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