Shoegaze is a genre which has never interested me. In fact, at times I’ve even been outright insulting towards it. ArtClassSink openly define themselves as alternative/shoegaze, and before reviewing this EP, I was filled with more than a little trepidation. The Oxford quartet have a fairly impressive track record so far, playing alongside such names as We Are Augustines, This Town Needs Guns, and headlining London’s “The Garage”, which it must be said is no mean feat. Taking influence from such bands as Foals, Joy Division and The XX, ArtClassSink are indie, but dark, and full of real emotion. It might be safe to say I may have to re-evaluate my opinion of shoegaze.
The introductory track to the release, She, is bleak. Really bleak. It sounds dark, depressed and powerful, backed by some militaristic drum rolls and eerie, discordant guitar work, undercut by an understated and almost hypnotic bassline. It starts slow, it draws you in, and frontman Joe Biggs wields his voice more like an additional instrument than the musical centre-piece. This is reinforced when the tempo change cuts in at more or less the halfway point, lending the song a more defiant sound, and dropping the vocals entirely. It hits surprisingly hard, and the ending is almost haunting.
Moving swiftly on Time To Go (Before The Rivalry), ArtClassSink maintain the tempo, launching into some very stylised backing vocals, repetitive drumming and a far more more prominent bass line from ArtClassSink’s bassist, Sam Edwards. The result is endearing, likeable and very catchy. The song is well constructed, and no element appears lost or out of place. The song is well presented, and once again features a mid-song (and very unexpected) break, lending an extra element to the song, while breaking the repetitive pattern by coming back with a more aggressive beat to mix thing up a little.
Cry For Help, the third song of the 4-track EP, returns to the bleak beginnings of She, but lacks the stopping power of the initial track. The song is still desolate and emotionally stirring, but it fails to impress in the same way. Vocals take a far more prominent position, and soaring synth lines dominate the initial sound. It may not have the “oomph” of She, but it definitely occupies the “haunting” niche of the EP. Rife with self-pity and longing, the music occupies the background to the emotional story of the lyrics and vocals, a technical high point of the EP in terms of song-writing.
Photo credit: Tom Pilston
Ending with the further synth-riddled Someone To Try For, ArtClassSink step towards a more traditional sound, blending their verses and choruses seamlessly in an upbeat indie style. The chorus is catchy, and the band play with synth-effects far more in their final offering of the EP, adding more depth and complexity to a song which already feels pretty busy. There are very few changes as the song progresses, but it finishes high, with some interesting effects coming through on synthesiser. The end is memorable, the music dropping out in a ring of static, the vocals continuing and the “trick ending” catching you totally unaware.
As a debut EP, ILLA is polished and impressive, showing variety within the music and an interesting use of song writing techniques. Switching between the fantastically dreary and haunting sounds of She and Cry For Help to the up-beat, indie sound of Time To Go and Someone To Try For is a hard thing to accomplish. It can be very jarring initially, but given time, the listener comes to realise that it perfectly fits the musical stylings of the band. I still don’t like shoegaze. But I do like ArtClassSink.
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