Pale Dian: Feral Birth–Album Review
Pale Dian: Feral Birth–Album Review
To drive across Texas it takes a solid twelve to fifteen hours depending on your choice of vehicle and level of aversion to the risk of a speeding ticket. Seven hundred seventy-three miles – ideally in a pickup truck with no air conditioning – is a long trip. Heading west from the Louisiana side, you would encounter the oasis of Austin just before halfway. Known in some circles as the “Leeds of Texas,” Austin is considered the American capital of shoegaze. That’s actually not true. Austin is truthfully one of the most vibrant music scenes anywhere. On any given day you can find genres you didn’t know existed being lovingly crafted in its many live venues and rehearsal spaces.
Feral Birth features a tasty blend of styles and textures.
Pale Dian is a perfect name for a band that hails from Austin (or Leeds) – the name evokes vivid images of wan complexions, angular cheekbones, dark hair, eyeliner, leather motorcycle jackets, and palpable angst. Musical comparisons to the Cocteau Twins or Lush are valid – as are more recent artists like London Grammar. To be honest, put a drum machine front and center (like Doktor Avalanche – see Leeds reference above) and add some phaser to a bass guitar and you are halfway to sounding like the Twins. Pale Dian uses their drum machine much like Sisters of Mercy: like a lead singer and smack in the middle of the mix. Pile all these elements together along with a healthy mix of cathedral-size reverb and you have the basics of shoegaze. Mostly.
Going back to Elizabeth Fraser and the Cocteau Twins: Pale Dian clearly shows this influence – but even a little more meta. The variety of soundscapes this quartet generates is almost as broad as This Mortal Coil or even the balance of the 4AD roster more so than just the Twins. That said, one noticeable difference between Ruth Smith and Elizabeth Fraser, Lisa Gerrard, and Louise Rutkowski, in general, is that she sings in English. Actual English words and lyrics. A lot of shoegaze features breathy vocals – on this record Ruth tends to lean toward an understated chest voice and strong falsetto. No belting to get in the way of the music.
Feral Birth features a tasty blend of styles and textures – a couple of older songs: “Emily” and “MeLt” were both released previously but fit comfortably with the rest of the album. The leadoff track “Vacant and Naked” employs a quintessential 4/4 drum machine loop with stresses on the second half of the 3rd and the start of the 4th beat – creating that well-known interior tension that defines so much of shoegaze structure. Ruth shows the aforementioned switch from her chest voice to her falsetto effortlessly – almost like two distinct instruments – to great effect.
The previously-issued “MeLt” starts like a dreamier and (if you can believe it) more reverb-drenched Khruangbin tune over a one-drop beat before it pauses and then leans into a straight-ahead 16th notes-on-the-hi-hat romp – only to pull back to the intro at the close. From a production point of view, “Misanthrope” is nearly a Cocteau Twins copy with its rifle shot snare drum. Don’t miss the animated music video directed by Austin’s own (and Dazed & Confused alum) Wiley Wiggins.
With the possible exception of a looped tambourine, the final track “Emily” sounds to be recorded with live acoustic instruments – and lots of reverb. Haunting and sustained background vocals make for a dense canvas – almost like a Going Blank Again-era Ride but with Ruth Smith singing. Vocally it also hints at early career Throwing Muses (there’s that 4AD reference again) which makes for an enjoyable combination of sounds and patterns.
If you are planning a (long) trip across Texas or the midlands of England, you could do a lot worse than having Feral Birth by Pale Dian for a soundtrack.