They say good things come to those who wait, and in the case of Brooklyn’s The Blessed Isles, the adage bears out. After five years of recording in studios across four states, the band stands poised to inject a much-needed dose of substance into the shoegaze bloodstream with their debut LP, Straining Hard Against the Strength of Night. Not satisfied to merely recreate the genre’s trademark textures, vocalist and guitarist Aaron Closson (The Hourly Radio) and multi-instrumentalist Nolan Thies (NΔTIONS) put a premium on songcraft, fashioning melodies that seamlessly reinforce the telltale shoegaze soundscape. At their core, these are finely wrought pop songs that would shine in any genre, but are fully realized in the gossamer intricacies and stentorian pulse of Straining.
Lead track “Caroline” encapsulates everything distinctive about the resurgent genre, featuring a tidal wave of guitars that propels the chorus into the stratosphere. In contrast, “Chase Away the Sun” is a study in measured restraint, conjuring a desolate terrain of heartache before breaking into a lush and expansive refrain. The record maneuvers deftly between aggressive figurations and cathartic release, a tension that compliments Closson’s plaintive vocals and evocative lyrics.
The Blessed Isles draws from its Brit Pop and ‘80s roots without compromising relevancy, and the bricolage of drum machines, synths and delay-saturated guitars is more innovative than nostalgic. One can hear echoes of Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and New Order, but the familiar elements are deployed in original arrangements that reward repeat listening.
Completed while Closson finished graduate studies at Yale and between Thies’ busy tour schedule, Straining manages to sound effortless and fresh, making an essential contribution to Saint Marie Records’ already impressive roster. This is a record for anyone who is susceptible to the charms of sonic dreamscapes but who is unwilling to sacrifice the fundamentals of songwriting that connect listeners to the music they love. It’s sure to become a mainstay in the genre for years to come.