To say that nostalgia and revivalism are hot properties right now would be an understatement. From the endless reanimation of long-dead cinematic properties to reactionary political discourse that conjures images of halcyon (and fictional) days of yore, nostalgia is one of the key lenses through which we can observe our fractured modern world.
One particular aesthetic in vogue is “grunge-gaze,” a blend of grunge and shoegaze with emo and hardcore elements thrown in. The sound draws on post-grunge latecomers like Silverchair and Sponge as well as early Deftones and Smashing Pumpkins in service of droning alt-rock that wallows in viscous tones and slacker songcraft. Beyond the sonics, the imagery and aesthetics that bands like Narrow Head rely on is relentlessly retro, from their analog music videos to Moments of Clarity’s minimalist artwork.
There’s no better to put it—Moments of Clarity is dull. Rather than building on the textured explorations of post-millennium Deftones or the ambition of Smashing Pumpkins at their most operatic, Narrow Head crib from these acts’ most prosaic and dated tendencies. Every mid-tempo rhythm, minor-key chord change and vocal melody is an echo of a sound that was once unique and striking.
To clarify, it’s not a prerequisite that all music should be innovative and new. Genre music exists within certain parameters and hearing those parameters performed with verve and individual tweaks can be great fun. Fleshwater and Cloakroom, two standouts within the grunge-gaze sound in particular, each succeed in balancing individuality with familiarity where Narrow Head often come up short. Songs on Moments of Clarity such as “Sunday,” “Caroline” and “Gearhead” are rote, full of turgid riffs, straightforward structuring and vocal melodies that leave little impression.
When the band color outside this basic palette, they rarely muster anything beyond pale imitations of long-worn ideas. “The World” attempts some My Bloody Valentine-esque diving guitars, but without the innovation of Kevin Shields’ radical formal experiments, it feels closer to senior-class grunge-gaze plodders Nothing imitating My Bloody Valentine. “Flesh & Solitude” tries out some meaty grooves à la Deftones’ self-titled album and here Moments of Clarity starts to wake up a little, though it never ascends to spectacular or emotionally-gripping heights.
This lack of emotional resonance is perhaps Moments of Clarity’s greatest disappointment. The retro imitations can be excused if there were attempts made to reveal something more vulnerable at its core. Instead, they offer songs with generic titles such as “Breakup Song” and “The Real” as well as vague, undercooked lyrics like the title track’s “my head’s numb today/your eyes burn in ways” chorus or “Breakup Song”’s “haven’t seen you in a while now/but I see it pretty clear that we won’t speak for a while now.”
If there’s any sort of image to be discerned within Moments of Clarity, it’s the sense that there’s a layer of dense, impenetrable fog clouding over everything. Several lyrics allude to a sort of numbing brain fog, but this could also be read as an accidental self-indictment. The fog that blights Moments of Clarity is an emptiness—a void of personality, imagination or emotional depth.
Label: Run for Cover