Bored one day, I did some more browsing on the Internet Archive’s netlabels in the hope that I could find some interesting obscure shoegaze to listen to. My eyes were attracted by A Beautiful Machine, and their self-titled debut record.
The album opens with a soft piece of aeroplane drone, rising up and down in pitch before fading out and the guitars rushing in in ‘Under Glass’, the six minute opening track. Cymbal-heavy drumming sets the beat in the background of atmospheric gaze guitar, making all of the distinctions between chords meaningless. There’s no riffs here, just textures, and it’s how shoegaze should be. When the vocals arrive, they’re echoed to all hell, and so – despite initially being clear – it’s impossible to make out what it’s actually saying, a lyrical sound more akin to Cocteau Twins than MBV.
‘Shining’ moves into the other main trope of shoegaze – if it’s not a wall of sound, it’s slow and sparse chords ringing out. While the dreamy chords move on and change slightly each time, some groaning noise starts to build, getting steadily louder and louder over two and a half minutes. You want the ambience to end, you want the noise to break through and leave you restless…but it never comes, instead replaced by ambience from a gentle, space-rock keyboard that’s been in the background the entire song, just overshadowed by the rest. This gives out, though, into echoed feedback, steadily drifting into the next track, ‘Fine’. This ratchets up the wall of sound fuzz again, reaching another level around the three-minute mark with further layers of guitar, squealing and squalling against themselves.
The fourth track and midway point of the album, ‘Only’ is charmingly lo-fi, the guitars ringing out like they’ve been recorded in an empty arena – it’s a messy echo, but it’s a natural one, and it’s well done. ‘Taste the Sun’ offers up the most radical departure so far, with layers and layers of acoustic guitar making an unsettling, ethereal environment for the music. The vocals are in prime post-punk goth-rock form, and it’s an eerie listening experience – you’ve got nowhere to anchor yourself to, and so ‘Taste the Sun’ just drifts by spookily.
It leaves a bad taste in your mouth that follows through to ‘The Great Procrastinator’, another wall of sound song with some dark reverse-echo vocals. When the noise guitar hits, it really blows you away, with some of the most agressive, overdriven guitar I’ve heard on record.
Shoegazers are renowned for their love of effects pedals, and ‘Ocean’ – the penultimate and longest song on the album – adds to the catalogue, introduced with some spacey tremolo guitar that runs through the entire song and keeps you on edge. The drums kick into action after a minute of this intro, pushing it forward while the vocals return, echoed again. Guitar feedback rushes into overdrive, and it all collides into some dense, atmospheric noise; the most impressive part of the record in my opinion. A Beautiful Machine started with some fairly cliche shoegaze – the ‘topics’ it’s labelled with on archive.org include ‘ride’, ‘my bloody valentine’, and ‘slowdive’, in case you needed any more proof about how indebted they are to the big three gaze albums – but as the record goes on, it manages to shift into its own unique style, claustrophobic, unsettling, and overall brilliant.
The brief finale, ‘Snowblind’, finalises the record with similar sounds to what we’ve heard before; with shimmery, unstable guitar and some fun reversed percussion to keep you going. And it’s never going to win any awards for ‘epic final track’, but you don’t need it to. You just want something to fade out and ease you back into the ‘real’ world, and this offers a definite sense of gazey finality.