Like an underwater explosion, Shojo Winter’s latest EP “Somewhere Else” sends out oddly muffled shockwaves that alter the resonant space between our ears. The record starts and ends with two beautifully abstract puddles of sound, bookending four deceptively melodic songs whose sound is refracted, reverberated, expanded and modulated.
It takes time to get your bearings in this strange sound world, although it contains recognisable echoes of dark new wave, industrial, noise and shoegaze. A fretless-sounding bass taps into wellsprings reminiscent of Japan and The Cure. A watery guitar swirls and shines in that ringing Roland Jazz Chorus sound. Big, coldly processed drums pound the songs with mechanic power. The singing is low in register and raspy, as if sung from under a black steel wool pillow. The words are difficult to make out, and the lyrics turn out to be suitably terse and reluctant, more like strained silences than speech, broken words struggling with late insights, steps not taken and things left unsaid. Though channelling familiar ghosts like the stark beauty of early Cocteau Twins, the dark, slow-burning intensity of Codeine, and the rich experimentation of bands like Coil on the one hand and My Bloody Valentine on the other, the whole creates quite a distinct and challenging sonic picture, with moments of real harmonic difficulty.
The main members of Shojo Winter are also members of the band Crisis Arm, whose somewhat lighter shoegaze leanings are perhaps more in tune with their California home. Crisis Arm’s pretty songs are smudged over by a relentlessly fuzzy guitar which I personally found underdeveloped and overbearing. Happily, something weird and wonderful seems to have happened on the way not only from one band to another, but also from Shojo Winter’s own earlier EP, “Eternal Snow”, which came out last June, to this recent recording. The murky, cavernous, claustrophobic sound of the summer EP, which had seemed spitefully stuck under hissy television snow, came to this tight and potent release in December – in the “Somewhere Else” that is the band’s wintery element. It’s a record that, while swimming almost blindly in dense, dark, frozen depths, frequently runs into patches of water in which flaky rays of light illuminate an otherworldly environment of rare fish and algae.