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June 7, 2011

Belong – Common Era (Kranky, 2011)

In the early 2000s this New Orleans duo began crafting a sound which straddled drone and shoegaze, using guitars and electronics to create deep, drifting ambiance. Looking back at their debut LP, October Language, and then at this, their second, it’s clear that things have changed quite a bit, and there is a step in between the two LPs which helps illustrate how.

In 2008, Belong released an EP of ’60s psych covers called Colorloss Record, and it’s here that the sound of Common Era began to take shape. Whereas October Language was an instrumental record, rendered with the staticy digital textures that defined a lot of experimental electronic music in the early 2000s, Colorloss Record was a warmer, more song-oriented (albeit completely alien-sounding) thing. Performed with only vocals, guitars, and synth (perhaps others, it’s difficult to tell), all completely saturated with effects, the songs were drastically deconstructed, taking on a groggy, ghostly sound which worked exceptionally well for the context and left them unrecognisable from the originals. Adapting this sound of voices and instruments alloying into something like an afterimage of music that’s already been played to a more song-based, pop format, is what the band is doing with Common Era.

A truly remarkable record, Common Era is deeply melodic and textured. Its unique power comes from the combination of two primary elements: the propulsive motorik drum machine patterns thumping away relentlessly, and thick streams of ecstatic composite sound. As a logical extent of over three decades of what Simon Reynolds first referred to as “oceanic rock,” before shoegaze became the more popular term, this record touches on recognisable cornerstones of the genre and is an important new milestone therein, as rarely has a group made something simultaneously so spectral and distant, yet so compelling and melodic.

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