he fond memory of times past is not necessarily a bad thing to linger on. Sometimes, to move forward, one has to examine the past and the positive qualities it had to offer to boldly move into the future. By harking back to a sound made popular more than a decade ago, San Francisco natives Stratford 4 are poised to lead a new wave of rock and roll to the next evolutionary step. With their JetSet Records debut, The Revolt Against Tired Noises, the band's influences, at times, seem emblazoned on their sleeves. Critics will bark the names of the bands out as if influence were a crime: My Bloody Valentine! Ride! Slowdive! In doing this, however, they may miss that this is not a blatant copy of the so-called "shoe gazer" movement of late '80's, early '90's Britain. It is instead a reinvention of those sounds. While it is familiar on some level, it is also striking for its confidence and control.
The first strains on the opening track should elicit swoons from those who appreciate the music that came out of this movement. The gentle cymbal tap and plaintive guitar that lead to distortion symbolize something that has seemed unattainable for too long now. On the opener, “Rebecca”, guitarist/vocalist Chris Streng yearns for a woman that does not exist. "And of course you were beautiful/Like you walked out of a dream/And of course you were imaginary/Just a little girl in black/That only I could see". The song's rhythm never steps out of the pseudo-waltz it starts in. The beauty of the song is in the surge of chords of feedback which rise and fall in wave-like crashes. The band perks things up a bit with the following two tracks, 'All Mistakes Are Mine' and 'Hydroplane', on which bassist Sheetal Singh shines brightest on. They then settle back down with the languid 'All The Fading Stars'. '...Stars' seems to be about a man who, while in a committed relationship, becomes entangled with another woman who has her sights set on him. "She's on her back on her bed/And says tell me about your girlfriend".
The best thing about Stratford 4 is that they are able to perpetuate a dreamy atmosphere, while at the same time not getting completely lost in the clouds. 'Window Open' is the best example of this. The guitar parts are stretched out and a little woozy sounding, complimenting the vocals that bring to mind William and Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain. But all the while that this is happening, the listener never feels apart from the song. The guitar feedback, which threatens to overwhelm the song as it peaks, instead dissipates into the laidback rhythm in which the song began.
“Displacer” evokes vivid images- it is a tale of a man who has a revolving door of mates, never settling for any particular one. "Yeah he met her on a Saturday night/And by Sunday it was already over/Displacer you're changing one for the other/In your heart/Replace her/You don't even know what you're doing/'Til it's gone". The narrator of the song seems to go on to do the lothario in for his hubris. "Yeah the sad thing is he liked her/I drove 'em backward underwater". As the album nears its end, drummer Andrea Caturegli weighs in vocally, along with Streng, on the gorgeous 'Autopilot'. If love songs ever need an example of how to be done right, this is it. Guitarist Jake Hosek adds swirling flourishes to the track.
On the album's closer, 'All That Damage', the band stretches beyond its already lengthy horizons for a mind-bending fifteen-minutes. Starting quietly with Streng and Caturegli sweetly sharing vocals, the song soon builds to an inevitable trippy middle, followed by a lofty ending. The drumming in the middle section is highly reminiscent of Maureen Tucker's on the Velvet Underground song 'Heroin'.
For such a new band, it is astonishing to see such a grasp of arrangement and ability to reign in the instrumentations. A lesser band may have opted for histrionics over subtlety. Showing a maturity that is severely lacking in the music of today, Stratford 4 are proof that a change in popular music is not only necessary, but possible.
Reviewed by: Brett Hickman
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01