ALBUM REVIEW: Coldharbourstores – ‘Dearly Devoted’: gorgeous dreampop fourth

COLDHARBOURSTORES have been plying their trade in a particularly lovely line in post-shoegaze pristine pop since the late Nineties – and really, it’s about time we gave them props for the aural beauty they bring, mining rich ore from an area that doesn’t maybe tromp the pedals as hard as the main vein of shoegaze, but offers sweet and gauzy bliss to wrap yourself up in on a winter’s day. Music with melody and bliss: a Ready Brek effect.

After an initial long-playing offering over at Rocket Girl, More Than The Other, and a period of quiet up into the mid-teens of the century, they’ve found a welcoming berth over at South-West London’s Enraptured, which has releases by Windy & Carl, AMP, Appliance and Silver Apples in its catalogue: a good place to be.

They’re in a prolific period of creativity after last year’s lovely Vesta – they’re just shaping to release a new album, Dearly Devoted, the first time they’ve released an LP in back-to-back years. But does the quality suffer? Not a bit of it. We’re gathered here to take a looksee, and we think you’ll find it presses just about all the right buttons.

They’re again working with trusted collaborators. Think the album cover bears a certain bright purity of design to the work of 4AD circa, say, Ultra Vivid Scene and The Breeders? That’ll be thanks to Danish visual artist Martin Masai Andersen, who worked for v23. Production once more comes courtesy Bark Psychosis’s Graham Sutton – and there’s a man who knows a thing or two about the creative edge of guitar music; he was at the faders for Coldharbourstores first album all those years ago now. That speaks of something more than the contractual; that speaks of a personal enthusiasm for what the band are about.

Coldharbourstores in a dream state

The album starts in fine and bright form with the blurry sugar hit of “Z E R O” – handily, it led out as a single at the beginning of October, so we’ve embedded the video for you below. It is, on the one hand, proper guitar pop at root; you regret losing that floppy fringe that covered your eyes, for its time has come again. It has an effortless glide. On the other hand, it also has more leftfield sonic edges, such as the warm organ tones out back which bring an interesting drone shimmer come-hither quality; they beckon you come burrow further beneath the pretty strum and riff and lose yourself. Lucy Castro’s voice sweetly siren-songs you above it all, making for a lovely song all round, frankly. It’s music to have on your earbuds while losing yourself in the passing parallax of a rainy day train journey.

“Amber” has a different aesthetic at play; Lucy’s voice playing with an almost Britsoul melody, the track built from skeletal programmed percussion and a little keyboard motif, before gradually gaining layers of sequencer, guitar sustain, dubby space to build back from. It’s like some of the later offerings from the Sarah stable, when that lofi naivete begin to take on more shoegazey elements – but presented with a well-judged exploratory depth.

“Litmus” is spiderweb delicate; rich acoustic strum, metronomic and luxurious, rising guitar overtones, a whole swirling globe of sound behind as Lucy offers a paean to this other, this litmus who confirms the world for her. Somewhere in there you’ll get little notes of Victorialand.

“Big Deal” seems to take everything that’s great about various phases of music from the Eighties: the gorgeous and unashamed pop of bands like China Crisis and also The Field Mice, and point out that actually they were a lot closer in evocation and intent than you might’ve hitherto considered. It’s pop, nay, POP! in an entirely uncynical, undebased, fashion. And it has a glorious, lofting, chiming guitar break to boot. It’s indie pop that doesn’t sacrifice a jot of its interesting sonics nor an iota of its melodic purity.

… from whence we swing back to the luscious ‘gaze of “Blush”, which seems to pick up a torch that Lush dropped carelessly somewhere after the futuristic, glass-shard thrills of Scar and well before the by-numbers chart filler of “Single Girl”. It has mystery and colour and inspiration, like an Impressionist painting. It takes something and remakes it in a prettier aesthetic to lift the spirit. We could all do with that.

“Love Theme” comes in on a big thrum of synthetic drum, handclaps and a bright ring of melody and well, it’s just lovely. A hug of a leftfield dream pop tune, tis. And I’ll say no more except: let it seduce you. I might play it again. And again.

Something about the jazzy, impro swing of “These Thieves” speaks of a transatlantic influence; think His Name Is Alive, This Mortal Coil even. It has a spontaneity and quirkiness, especially as Lucy’s voice ominously rings down into a thunder of generative tronica noise in the middle, before the song finds its second wind in a really widescreen, autumnal coda.

“AMY” is darker still, flowing in the shadowy textures of epic minor chords, the occasional deep pulse marking time and atmosphere with big guitar chimes. It’s got a penchant for a Victorian graveyard, has this one. It segues straight into the brighter bliss of “Graduation”, swinging beatifically in six-string prettiness, major sevenths, dripping with melodicism. Lucy’s cooed first verse gives way to the kind of effortless vocal delight of a Liz Fraser or a Harriet Wheeler; honeyed, soaring, all those kind of superlatives absolutely aptly employed. Another stone cold beauty on an album not short of them. It’s a really romantic tune, is what it is.

Lucy is unusually upfront and lyrically clear on “Starstruck”; whereas on other tunes herein you pick up notional snatches of the words in the glorious blur of the whole, here she’s crisp, razor-sharp even, about someone who dazzled her: “You crossed the line / In your brand new shoes / With the squeaky heels,” she trills, against a future-gaze shimmer, part guitar odyssey, part tronica claps and chatter. And you know what? It works just fine.

Dearly Devoted checks out absolutely in the centre of the Coldharbourstores world: in shimmer and melody, absolute glow and resonance of guitar, wordless choirs and synths filling out. Fittingly, it ends a little riff swathed in chorus.

Let’s not beat about the bush: it’s been an absolutely bloody horrible year, has 2020, and music has been one of the few reliable things to buoy us up. Dearly Devoted does nothing absolutely cutting edge, but if you need that kinda hit, then you can listen to Jockstrap as well; because Coldharbourstores have looked back over their shoulder and seen recombinations of things that offer much reward. Early Eighties pure pop, shoegaze, the 4AD aesthetic, some of the later C86 jangle pop manifesto, all mixed together with a real ear for how blissful a song can be.

At least half the songs here are tune of the year contenders in a standalone way; taken all together it’s just a bloody lovely album. A slightly more pastoralist Beach House, maybe; even at points hinting at more purely electronic explorers such as Kelly Lee Owens, just in touches. At other points, they sound like Lanterns on the Lake’s little sister, who’s fallen in love with The Autumn Store EPs by The Field Mice.

I’ve struggled with dream pop as a definition, since it seems to be used as a catchall for anything from ‘not quite loud enough to be shoegaze proper’ to ‘pretty and full of synths’ to ‘we think we should be on the soundtrack to Stranger Things‘ – and much of this from bands themselves; I’ll say to you now, like some strange musical inspector of weights and measures: Coldharbourstores? Dream pop? Absolute industry standard. Let them be your go-to.

Coldharbourstores’ Dearly Devoted will be released by Enraptured on digital download, CD and green vinyl on November 27th. To order your copy, visit Rough Trade.

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