1. City Girl
3. In A Dream
9. Pale Blue
10. Wild Heart
At the vanguard of what is being cited as the third wave of Psychedelic sound, ‘Cellar Doors’, is the shimmering first effort from this rapidly emerging San Francisco trio. Cellar Doors are, Sean Fitzsimmons, vocals and guitars, Jason Witz, bass and keyboards and Miki Rogulj, drums. The album was recorded at Coyote Hearing Studios in Oakland, California, with production and engineering by Jeremy Black. I am partial to a little shoe gazing and will be reviewing the new Brian Jonestown Massacre album for 3 Songs & Out, so my question was, are Cellar Doors another West Coast pretender or are they the real deal?
The opener, 'City Girl' starts with a fuzzy wall of sound and feedback. As with this genre, the vocals are laid behind the instrumentation. My first impression was that this reminded me of Krautrock from the likes of Kraftwerk, but it is sufficiently familiar for most, and does have twinges of alternative 80's. This combination is pretty good, and as openers go, I sat up and listened, as the feedback faded away.
'Silhouette', is instantly catchy. With the driving percussion, again it had touches of 80's alternative and there was more than a nod to Joy Division, especially in the intro. Sean Fitzsimmons' vocal was more prominent in the hazy instrumentation, and this could be a radio track, if you listen to the right stations. You get Joy Division in spades with 'In A Dream' and the dreamy darkness is all enveloping. Given the simple and repetitive percussion in the previous track, this one is more varied and Miki Roguli's drums add a rockier vibe driving the song through to the fuzzy guitar solo. There are changes in tempo in this complex song. 'Prism' has a very crisp electronica intro from Jason Witz on keyboards and this is ever present in the song. I can see why 'Prism' has been previously released as a single. It is different enough to stand out, but catchy enough to make you stop and listen. This is one of the stand out tracks on the album. So we are now at the halfway mark, and this has so far been a real joy to listen to. 'Hollow' is full of dark imagery and the catchy dark guitar riffs add to the whole ambiance. The backing vocals add to the oppressive wall of sound. Halfway through the vocal seems to almost like the Doors at their darkest.
The second half starts with 'Sirens' which is an up tempo number with the instrumentation coming through in fuzzy waves. the sound rises and crashes, like musical breakers. The keyboards, guitar and percussion work together really well. The backing vocals add to the dreamy feel. This track is pounding yet catchy and I think would be a live anthem. By contract 'Frost' has a very clear succinct guitar riff intro with punchy percussion. The melody is very reminiscent of the previous track, but dehazed. Sean's vocal is also a lot crisper, apart from the slight echo, which keeps this within the shoe gazing genre. This has also been released as a single, and you can see why. Like 'Prism', it is less hazy and could make a wider audience listen. Like a piece of modern art, I think that different people will interpret it in different ways and hear different influences in there.
'Heroine' as the title suggests, I suppose, has a far darker, stoner feel to it. Fans of bands such as the shoegazing masters, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Jesus And The Mary Chain, will feel at home with this slow meandering slice of hazy oppression. If the previous track makes you want to float away, Cellar Doors pick you up again with the longest track on the album. 'Pale Blue' re-affirms that Psychedelia can be fun and have catchy rhythms. The hook throughout with the keyboards and percussion make your head nod in time and your feet tap. This is a great track for me and lightens some of the previous heavier numbers. It adds contrast. Again this strikes me as a great live track that could be epic in a live set as it awakens all the senses and then floats away on some delicious reverb. The Album all too soon ends with 'Wild Heart'. Not that this is a short album, as a debut it is a respectable 42 minutes long, but the time has just flown by. 'Wild Heart' is pretty different to all the other numbers. Sure there is still fuzz, and a haze on Sean's vocals, but it is a beautiful love song, with the rest of the band singing on the backing vocals. One last group effort, and almost a slice of flower power as a nod to the first phase of psychedelic sound.
This really is a good debut album, in a genre that is full of pretenders and substandard facsimiles. The musicianship is extremely good, the lyrics and vocals are on point and the production is full of attention to detail. The length is just right and there is not a weak song on the album. Whilst it stays true to the genre, there is enough variance to keep the listener interested, and you will be able to hear influences from bands that have influenced Cellar Doors. This is an accomplished slice of shoegazing at it's finest and should open doors for Cellar Doors.
Cellar Doors is released in the UK on Friday 15th February via Spiritual Pajamas.
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Review - Tony Creek