erasing clouds

Japancakes, Loveless and Giving Machines

reviewed by dave heaton

Covering a legendary album in its entirety is a bold move for a band, one Japancakes handle gracefully with Loveless, their version of the My Bloody Valentine classic. The prospect of a six-member instrumental band from Athens, Georgia – with pedal steel and cello their most recognizable instruments – taking on such a worshipped album will no doubt cause you naysayers to start making noise. But shut up for a second and listen; I can’t imagine a fan of either MBV or Japancakes (or music at all, though I realize that’s a jerk thing to say) feeling like this interpretation isn’t worth their time. What’s wonderful about Japancakes’ Loveless is how much it resembles the original and how little it does, starting right with the crashing opener “Only Swallow” (still probably my favorite moment on Loveless, though there’s so many stunning ones). Cello takes over from the vocals, as they veer towards Muzak but staying this side of it because of how forcefully the rest of the band picks up the momentum of the song, and how exactly they match the textures and mood. I could never understand the lyrics, anyway; I always hummed along. Maybe that’s why an instrumental version retains all of the mystery and beauty of the original, while adding pleasure through the familiarity factor. I admire how well they capture the strangest sounds on the original – like that warped sound at the beginning of “Touched” – but also how the music gains what seems like a uniquely American quality from the instrumentation (the pedal steel especially).

While Japancakes elevate their Loveless to much more than just a game, it’s helpful that they have another new album of mostly originals out, to demonstrate to skeptics the band’s talent in composing, and playing, songs of their own. Giving Machines is equally elegant and romantic as Loveless, swooning gorgeously and wrapping listeners up in its sounds. And its melodies, for that matter – Japancakes are not one of these so-called “post-rock” bands that go for mood above all else. These songs have hooks and atmosphere, presence and motion. The first song, “Double Jointed”, has pop melodies galore, while also introducing the band’s dreamier side (that combination of melody and mood makes me, perhaps predictably, imagine this music as a film score, though it’s too striking to be confined to the background). As the album proceeds, it gets mellower and drifts more, though always with a clarity of vision that will makes listeners alert and attuned to every sound. Both the dreamy and the pop side are of course evident on the band’s cover of the Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven or Las Vegas”, which is spot-on, prefacing in a way the Loveless cover. As good as Japancakes’ original material is, the MBV and Cocteau Twins covers have me imagining a whole career of shoegaze covers for them. Let’s hear some Slowdive, some Ride, some JAMC! Or maybe they should just keep doing as they please: it takes independence and courage both to take on Loveless and to create such beguiling works of their own.


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