The scene that once celebrated itself has invited a lot more revelers to the party. Where shoegaze—a term once applied, tongue-in-cheek, to pedal-chain-focused, hazy British guitar bands of the early ’90s—had niche appeal during its genesis, a few generations of file-sharers, bloggers, TikTok-ers and those who debate Deftones’ chosen genre have helped bring it more widespread and cross-demographic appeal. Look no further than the lineup of Las Vegas’ Sick New World festival for evidence of how dreamy indie rock has found a broader appeal, its roster of talent juxtaposing the likes of Slipknot next to Slowdive, as well as Boston underground icons Drop Nineteens, whose legend far outlasted their first run.
Unlikely as it might have seemed once that Drop Nineteens would ever share a stage with some of the biggest names in nu-metal, that the band might reunite at all seemed an even more remote possibility. Together for only a few short years in the early ’90s, Drop Nineteens released two albums—including the cult-classic Delaware, featuring r/shoegaze staple “Kick the Tragedy”—as well as having shared the stage with PJ Harvey and Radiohead. But after they split in 1995, founding member and frontman Greg Ackell retired from music, content with the level of success and artistic achievement under his belt. But in 2021, a friend convinced him to plug in his guitar again, which led to Ackell calling up his old bandmates to reconvene for something they hadn’t done in 30 years: Record a new Drop Nineteens album.
That album, Hard Light, is both a continuation of the sounds they pioneered on 1992’s Delaware as well as a firm reset. The rawness and youthful urgency of their early years is toned down and tempered, and in their place a maturity and confidence that make songs like “Scapa Flow” feel less like restatements of earlier ideas than new conceptions of what Drop Ninteens music is in 2023. The answer is that it’s invariably beautiful, frequently powerful, reflective of a band not so much recapturing something they left behind but nurturing it with care and affection. Every song here feels essentially true to what Drop Nineteens once were and where their earlier recordings suggested they could have gone, from the strummy jangle-pop of “Tarantula” to the hypnotic pop groove of “A Hitch.”
Even on the darker, effects-washed moments like the gloom and scrape of “The Price Is High,” there’s a sense of ease, even joy, to Drop Nineteens’ craft. Curious as it might be to say so about a genre whose most legendary figure is a notorious perfectionist, Hard Light is a record that feels most strongly defined by a sense of playful ease. However, in a manner more befitting the characteristics of shoegaze, it’s also a record that sounds great, its pop-friendly songs wrapped in euphoric layers of shimmering guitars. It’s more than that, though; Hard Light isn’t just good shoegaze, it’s music that feels alive.
Label: Wharf Cat
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.