Oh Minnows – For Shadows (Young & Lost Club)

July 31, 2011 by  

Oh Minnows is the solo project of Chris Steele-Nicholson, formerly of the fairly short-lived London-based indie rock outfit, Semifinalists. While the aforementioned band was known for producing bouncy, optimistic indie rock, Steele-Nicholson makes a sharp turn to the left with Oh Minnows, and draws on shoegaze and its baby cousin chillwave to craft his music.

The album opens with ‘Another Volunteer’, which is the most fast-paced song of the lot, and also one of the strongest. Some well-selected, lush guitar chords are deployed alongside a simple but solid drumbeat and a bed of subtle synth, while the reverb-tinged vocals float overhead like clouds. It’s an incredibly strong opener – a song with real purpose which does a good job of summing up what Oh Minnows is about. There are dreamy, airy, melodies coupled with yearning, melancholic lyrics, such as “If we die tonight/There’s a place we can go/Where it’s cold outside”.

This leads us to ‘At the Rehearsal’, which features a really odd sounding organ straight out of the Monster Mash, and a combination of mellow synths and whimsical vocals that are reminiscent of some of MGMT’s more subdued works. The bulk of the album, though, is clearly influenced by shoegaze, like a more accessible My Bloody Valentine or M83, only less, well, French-sounding. ‘A Performance’ is particularly shoegazey – a beautiful wall of synth and breezy voices are complimented by tremolo guitars which sound like they were borrowed from Explosions in the Sky. You can practically reach out and feel the combined texture that they create.

‘Some Reasons Why’, on the other hand, sounds like a scientific experiment. About a minute and a half long, it contains an unpredictable line of synth which hops around like a hyperactive musical rabbit, being chased through echoey passageways by pianos, bells and tambourines. There’s a break in the middle of the song, too, which has a slightly musique concrète feel about it – sounds of the street, bells and rain take the place of synths for a brief period. It’s pretty weird, but it’s a nice break from being constantly submerged in reverb.

For the most part, Steel-Nicholson’s vocals aren’t all that clear amongst the ocean of noise that he creates around them, but it’s possible to make out the lyrics in a handful of the songs. ‘Everyday’, one of the album’s strongest tracks, is a tale of yearning for lost lovers. Over mellow guitars and steady drums, we hear “Now what am I gonna do?/I’m nothing without you/Every day I want to see you/This day will be the last”. The naming of Oh Minnows has drawn criticism from some for being lacklustre and defeatist, but I think that it’s a perfect illustration of what’s going on in these songs. Steel-Nicholson writes about how the grass often feels greener on the other side, and feelings of inadequacy. Fundamentally, how it feels to be a minnow.

The album closes with ‘By the Sea’, which is an extraordinary track combining a dubstep-like drum beat with light strings and a very deflated, defeated sounding choral harmony. There’s also a fascinatingly unexpected orchestral breakdown, which leads to an outro that fades out so softly that you just want to run after it and let it linger on for a little longer. Listening to For Shadows is like being led through a landscape made entirely of clouds, or being plummeted into a pool of strange colours and sounds. It’s definitely a journey, with some very satisfying moments, but the fact that it’s so easy to draw comparisons to similar dreamy shoegaze-inspired artists means that there’s a good chance that it’ll be at least a little bit similar to a journey that you’ve been on before. Nevertheless, For Shadows is an interesting listen, and one which everyone should be encouraged to give a chance.

[rating:4]


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