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22 October 2010

Album Review: Presents for Sally. A Touch of Joy, A Touch of Sadness.

Artist: Presents for Sally.
Album Title: A Touch of Joy, A Touch of Sadness.
Record Label: Laser Ghost Recordings.
Release Date: November 22, 2010.

It's quite uncommon to hear a single track from an unknown band on a random compilation and still remember them 2 years later, having not heard anything new from them in that time; however, that is precisely what happened for me with Presents for Sally. By some combination of their unique band name (When The Sun Hits just interviewed the band, which you can read here, if you're also curious about the band name's origin) and the high quality of that one track, entitled "Flowers Falling Sideways" (listen to it here), I simply never forgot Presents for Sally, and over the past 2 years have repeatedly revisited that track, played it on the radio, and wondered if they were to ever release an album. Only recently did I learn that the band was gearing up for their debut full length, after releasing a limited edition 7 inch single of the gorgeous "Catch Your Fall" (also on the new LP). Excitement for the new record was reaching swoon levels when I finally received it from the band earlier this week. And, just as I'd hoped and imagined, it is a beautiful thing to hear.

A Touch of Joy, A Touch of Sadness kicks off with the track "Smell Your Scent", an incredible, lilting piece of dream pop that starts off gently and builds into a massive orchestral bit of shoegaze heaven. At around the 4 minute mark, the song becomes so beautiful, it's almost difficult to listen to. Matt's vocals are right on the mark, and the guitar distortion nears psychedelic proportions before the song leads you out the same quiet way you came in. An absolute stunner.

Next up is "Smooch" (which was also the b-side to the "Catch Your Fall" 7 inch), a more upbeat track with lovely sounds of all kinds (I especially love the chimes) traversing through it. The beat in itself is so catchy, it's impossible not to love this song; sonically, this track is extremely diverse and accomplished, with the soundscapes building upon themselves until the track is overflowing with them. Presents for Sally know exactly what they are going for in terms of sound, and that precision is evident in every cut. I wouldn't say that they sound like My Bloody Valentine, per se, as they very much have their own sound, but in terms of how they use soundscapes to their advantage, the band is every bit as impressive as MBV. This track is a personal favorite; I've listened to it countless times this week.

By the time I've reached track 3, "Catch Your Fall", I'm pretty much in love with this band. This track is a slow burning sonic masterpiece; a near perfect piece of music. It's hard for me to pigeon hole these guys as shoegaze/dream pop (while this element is most definitely there), because a lot of what I hear is psychedelia-influenced. Granted, I think much of shoegaze is psychedelia-influenced, but for whatever reason, Presents for Sally have a true knack for creating otherworldly sounds. "Catch Your Fall" is a good example of this, as it's built around a solid shoegaze-y foundation, but sonically there is a lot more going on. The guitar work is especially gorgeous on this one, truly psychedelia-inspired. Every note is pitch perfect. I'm having a difficult time actually comparing this band to others, just for a point of reference for the reader, which speaks volumes about their unique sound, although I'll say that on this track I can certainly hear the faintest bit of Slowdive.

Matt's vocals on "Sunsets In Your Eyes" are especially lovely, as are the lyrics: "We sat there talking about the skies/When I saw the sunset in your eyes/But I don't care because I saw you first". A slow, beat-driven bit of dream pop perfection, you'll love this song.

Track 5, "Alone", is an atmospheric and dreamy instrumental, much in the vein of Hammock. Once again, Presents for Sally impress with their diversity and masterful control of sounds. Mostly quiet and slow, the track has an incredible psychedelic outro not to be missed.

On "Your Hand in Mine" we finally get to hear more of Anna's vocal work, with Matt on backing vocals, and they sound excellent together. With a slowish, head bobbing beat and awesome guitar work, this track is incredibly catchy, and I'm in love with Anna's voice. As with many of the band's tracks, the sounds are experimental, almost trippy, and the track builds to loud, awesome payoff around the 2:15 mark. Exceptional.

Track 7, "Chug", has an experimental, electronic-based sound, very slow and atmospheric, almost haunting. Matt and Anna are singing together on this one again, and their harmonies are used to a very powerful effect here. Clocking in at over 6 minutes, every moment is riveting. While "Smooch" has the "touch of joy" (see record title), "Chug" is certainly carrying the "touch of sadness", with it's disconcerting sounds, gorgeous melodies, haunting soundscapes, and psychedelic vibe. A truly impressive song.

Track 8, "I Don't Know Why", brings us back up with an upbeat and happy bit of more classic shoegaze, with a very The JAMC vibe; an almost surfer rock feel to it. Most definitely a jam for driving around with the windows down.

The album closer, "Point", clocks in at just over 8 minutes, and it's another slow burning piece of epic sonic perfection. This is very much a true shoegaze song, but again, there is just so much going on sonically; I almost want to compare them to A.R. Kane, as far as mastery of atmosphere is concerned. This is a track for a dark room and your best pair of headphones.

Quite honestly, I couldn't be more impressed or delighted with this album. Not many things are worth waiting 2 years for; Presents for Sally's debut record most definitely was. In this year of amazing releases, this trio from the UK jumps straight into the game right at the end of the year, creating one of my favorite records of 2010. Full of mindblowing sounds, gorgeous melodies, truly accomplished guitar work, perfect vocals, and so much more, it's a near-perfect record, and one that I highly recommend. Come November 22, buy this record (out on Laser Ghost Recordings, also home to When The Sun Hits faves the Fauns). With the gorgeous songs and awesome packaging, complete with excellent photos by the band's third member, Luke, you'll be very glad that you did.

Review by Amber.