Floating in the upper lo-fi atmosphere and careening ever closer
to shoegaze orbit is a band from the mid ’90s you’ve likely never heard of. Hailing as far from Seattle as their freaked-out tunes are from grunge and alternative music from that same era, Providence, Rhode Island’s now defunct Space Needle are the band a decade failed to notice. But with a new best-of collection, Recordings 1994-1997, a new generation interested in something other than what Kurt Cobain and his compatriots did in the ’90s might want to listen up. With more lyrical emphasis than most shoegazers can muster and more guitar experimentation than you can shake a lo-fi stick at, Space Needle is a band complacent with the ambiguity of their sound.
As about as experimental as they come, Space Needle walk a line between loosely composed walls of screeching guitar distortion and simple love songs with normal progressions and predictable sentiments. The fuzzed-out guitars, which become indiscernible from each other on some of the instrumental tracks, had me pining for My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, and as much as I wanted to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Loveless, if the
shoegaze fits… But whereas Shields’ brilliant vision for Loveless starts to become apparent after several listens, it seems like Space Needle’s method of madness consisted of throwing crashing guitars and off-kilter drum beats into a blender and hitting the frappe button. Whether or not anything coherent emerged from the mess seemed almost an afterthought.
I’m all for experimental music, but it seems so often that it becomes less an endeavor into new sonic territory than an experiment in the listener’s patience. Most of Recordings 1994-1997 seems to defy gravity as it drifts farther and farther into the realm of the inaccessible. Songs that maintain some musical structure are few and far between, and mostly fail to balance out the more forgettable `noise’ tracks. The factory-like percussion of “Cones and Rods” becomes torturous after about 30 seconds and closer “Where The Fucks My Wallet,” while featuring a few minutes of pretty electric picking, seems to stretch toward an infinity of monotony before ending at just under 16 minutes.
A few stand-out tracks include “Old Spice,” where the echoing vocals barely penetrate the heavily distorted guitar haze, and “One Kind Of Lullaby,” an acoustically driven number that can only be described as lo-fi balladry at its best. The hangover-amble of “Love Left Us Strangers,” with its lazy keyboards and handclaps surprises with what will be the most salient moment of the collection: “Love left us strangers and we never knew why/ Freedom and danger gave sight to a restless eye.”
Space Needle’s Recordings 1994-1997 demonstrates the kind of experimental pinoneering in the lo-fi and shoegaze genres that could have developed into a truly unique sound, but never seemed to reach its potential. Who knows what they could have culled from the stratosphere given a few more years to refine their musical styling?