You’d be forgiven if, when you hear the words “shoegaze” and “metal,” you automatically think of blackgaze. Whether you love this unholy union of antithetical styles or it boils your blood with the rage of the trve, it has become the vehicle by which a new generation of metal lovers have, perhaps unwittingly, familiarized themselves with an alt rock movement of the late 80s and early 90s. But long before the Deafheavens and Alcests of the world began casting a wistful eye toward hazy melody and emotional vulnerability, post metal bands like Neurosis and Isis were incorporating shoegaze-like elements without even trying. That’s because shoegaze and post-metal are kissing cousins, having both evolved partly out of post-rock at about the same time. So it’s surprising to me that among the growing number of corpse-painted kids inspecting their loafers, there aren’t more bands like Brooklyn, NY based Spotlights, who are releasing their third full length, Love & Decay.
The songs on Love & Decay are post-metal in structure with moments of sludge/doom heft, but damn it if Spotlights don’t frequently sound like My Bloody Valentine started down tuning their guitars and forgot to stop. Or like a much heavier Starflyer 59 back when they were accused of being a My Bloody Valentine knock-off. If you’re not following, take a break and go listen to Loveless. We’ll still be here when you get back. Spotlights are a touch less psychedelic and often allow their keyboards to carry the simpler—and often affecting—melodies over the guitar distortion, as they do on opener “Continue the Capsize.” “The Particle Noise” may start with the same Loveless woozy feeling, but the stomping quasi-breakdown later in the song is heavy as lead. It’s a clean heavy, not unlike Deftones. Half-whispered vocal harmonies of husband and wife team Sarah and Mario Quintero, the strongest tie to MBV, float sweetly above the noise.
Dedicated readers of this site may recall Mark Z‘s review of the band’s previous effort, Seismic. At the time, he found the overall sound appealing, but the songwriting too loose and the 69 minute run time much too long. Since then, Spotlights have made strides in both areas. Love & Decay is a full 20 minutes shorter, and stronger for it. And while the songs on Seismic featured memorable moments in forgettable compositions, here we get playlist worthy material. “The Particle Noise” and “Until the Bleeding Stops” both feature taut, muscular arrangements that progress naturally. The latter is as doom metal as the band gets, and shows they can write the kind of emotive riffage usually reserved for the likes of Pallbearer. As sweet as the vocals may be and however plaintive the melodies, there are undeniably heavy moments littered throughout the album.
But there’s a “but.” After 33 minutes of improved, if somewhat uniform songwriting, the last two tracks mark a departure, as well as a regression. “Mountains Are Forever” starts well, with the most up-tempo and dense riffs and drumming yet, but a transition at the song’s midpoint sees the band suddenly trying on a new look. Harsh vocals come out of nowhere as a driving mid-paced chug tries a little too hard to sound aggressive. From there the song more or less trails off. With nothing else like it on the album, it inspires head scratching more than headbanging. Closer “The Beauty of Forgetting” is something else entirely. A scratchy electronic beat with acoustic guitar strumming starts what sounds like a song from a different album entirely. When the riffs kick in, they’re doomy, but generic. Each section of the song overstays its welcome as it sprawls aimlessly for 11 minutes. The muscular definition displayed earlier is gone. Instead, the composition balloons out, like Bo Jackson after retirement from various sportsballs.
Leaving off the last two songs, Love & Decay is a rock solid slab of “dreamsludge”—as the band themselves call it—as well as a more natural blending of shoegaze and metal than the sub-genre-that-shall-not-be-named. The ethereal vocals blend well with post metal riffs that can hit like a boulder wrapped in velvet. Hopefully their next album will see Spotlights finally shake the songwriting sprawl issues for good.