Album Reviews

Oh Minnows – For Shadows

(Young & Lost) UK release date: 25 July 2011

Over the last year or so, the so-called ‘chillwave’ movement hassteadily gained wider attention through the work of artists likeWashed Out and Neon Indian, and is being increasingly usedas a blanket term for the music of any artist who uses the Britishindie scene of the 1980s as a source of inspiration. Characterised bythe use of vintage synthesisers, distortion effects and etherealvocals, together with a lo-fi, bedroom recording ethic, these bandsare often in fact the work of just one individual who painstakinglyconstructs their own sonic world without the help of anyone else.

The latest in an ever more impressive roster of talent to emergefrom this loose genre is Oh Minnows, otherwise known as ChrisSteele-Nicholson. Formerly the multi-instrumentalist in obscureLondon trio Semifinalists, Steele-Nicholson relocated to hisnative U.S. – the home of most of the chillwave movers and shakers –to record his new solo project. Despite the rather limp name he’schosen for himself, the months of effort he’s put into perfecting ForShadows have undoubtedly paid off, as the resulting album is ashimmering delight.

Falling somewhere between the sublime dream pop of WildNothing and the more upbeat, funky dynamic of Twin Shadow,For Shadows’ ten songs are sometimes epic and at other times intimate,but always warm and thoroughly engaging. Opening track AnotherVolunteer kicks off with a razor sharp New Order-like guitarriff, clattering drum machine and chiming synthesizers before thesoaring vocals glide sublimely into the mix. Both irresistibly catchyand yearningly pretty, it finishes with Steele-Nicholson’s disembodiedtenor reflecting desperately on “being swept underground/for right orwrong.” It’s an outstanding start that sets the template for what’s tocome.

Second offering At The Rehearsal is equally good; beginning with awoozy organ, it builds to a huge crescendo with Steele-Nicholsonpassionate cry of “I love you sunset” riding atop huge, crashing wavesof white noise that recall My Bloody Valentine in their pomp.Songs like Performance and Trade are hazier and less structured butstill utterly lovely, with their insistent, pulsing bass lines,beautifully warped soundscapes and ghostly vocals reminiscent ofThe Cocteau Twins.

There’s not really a weak track on For Shadows, but perhaps SomeReasons Why, with its nod to the murky dubstep of artists such asBurial, is the least satisfying moment. Yet this slight dip inquality is soon rectified by the arrival of Every Day’s gorgeouslylanguid guitar and infectious, shuffling rhythm. Like many of OhMinnows’ compositions, it focuses on the pain of failingrelationships, in this case specifically on the moment of realisationthat there’s no way back and the future must be confronted. AsSteele-Nicholson defiantly states that “everyday I want to see you/butthis will be the last” accompanied by weeping strings, his painpalpably bleeds from the speakers and its almost impossible not tofeel moved. It’s the absolute zenith of an album that has already seta consistently high watermark throughout.

As the final blissed-out chords of closing track By The Sea slowlyfade away into the distance, the instinctive reaction is to reach forthe play button and experience the whole 35 minutes of For Shadowsagain. Lovingly crafted, emotionally powerful and texturally rich,it’s a major statement from an artist who seems totally comfortableand in control of what he’s trying to accomplish. Washed Out’s WithinAnd Without has rightly garnered critical plaudits over the past fewweeks, but Oh Minnows have now raised the chillwave bar to a whole newlevel.

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Oh Minnows – For Shadows