Those unfamiliar with shoegaze should probably be made aware of some staples of the subgenre. Generally, heavy effects create a drone of distorted guitar, working cohesively with vocals that act as another instrument in order to accentuate the melody lost in the fuzz. The lyrics of such groups tend to border on the side of melodrama, speaking of heartbreak, loss and uncertainty. When measured by these standards, Makaras Pen, the Buffalo, New York-based band fit quite well within the genre on their self-titled debut album.
This is not to be confused though; Makaras Pen are nowhere near as self-deprecating as any number of contemporary emo groups that could be mentioned. There are no cheap, emotional ploys used to grab the listener’s attention. Instead, the band relies on their extensive knowledge of shoegaze and their long-standing friendship to convey true sentiment. Added to the plethora of comfort and familiarity within the group is the twist of including touches of aggressive indie rock to the mix. Lead singer, Emma Willis, offers sensitive and heartfelt vocals to sad yet hopeful lyrics. The spacey ambiance created by the wailing effects of the guitar (provided by Doug White and Jon Nemi), solidifies the forward motion of each song.
Album opener, “Currents,” makes itself immediately accessible by offering upbeat, 80’s style gloom pop to the high register of Willis. Guitars strum, vocals over-dub and drums drive the song ever forward. When the chorus kicks in, the music slows to a head bob-inducing pace, due in large part to the heavy distortion layered on top of everything else that is going on.
“Falling Deeper” opens with a similarly gloomy intro, but finds a lighter note in which to present the chorus. The 80’s feel is heavy, punctuated by the laser-like effects of a somber guitar. Willis contributes to the cheerless tone with lyrics, “Words we shared they seem so faded/What’s said between us dies within us anyway.” Despite this, Willis’ delicate, warm vocals keep the song from reaching full-blown melodramatic levels.
Throughout the listen, the one word that comes to mind most frequently is consistency. While this is generally a positive for most bands, it hurts Makaras Pen a bit. The vocals of Willis, the spacey effects of the guitars and the largely grave nature of the album can feel too measured and predictable to command the listener’s complete attention.
What Makaras Pen has done with the release of their self-titled album is contribute to the recent development that has involved bands beginning to make shoegaze relevant once more. Since fading from the public eye in the early nineties due to the emergence of grunge, groups such as M83, Silversun Pickups and Broken Social Scene have borrowed from the lost genre, dubbing a new movement known as “nu-gaze.” The newest album of this movement is utterly listenable, bound together by Makaras Pen’s mastery of the genre. Of course, the one problem the group faces is keeping the songs from blurring together. As the album moves further along, some listeners may grow weary of the persistently downtrodden mood that accompanies most of the tracks. Overall though, Makaras Pen delivers a well produced, inviting and genuinely interesting album that should have listener’s looking back in the past, as well as to the future, to the far-from-dead genre that is shoegaze.