Rapidfire Reviews: My Sister Maura, Day Aches, Mad Honey

Posted: by The Editor

Earlier this year, we premiered the debut single from a small Raleigh dream pop band called My Sister Maura in the run-up to their first EP. Seven months later, the three-piece is back with a full-length, titled So Long. The band points to college rock as quickly as they do to shoegaze when discussing their influences, and that appreciation comes through far more clearly on So Long than it did on Faintest Screams. On songs like “Space Station” and “In a Car” the shimmery jangle of REM breaks through the coating of fuzz, and although colored by a few bursts of feedback “Oh My Love” and “Softly Go” are more or less just straight-up indie rock songs. Shoegaze, for a lot of So Long, is a matter of texture more than sound—the gauzy guitar lines on “Silver” are secondary to the melodies, to the saxophone break, to the sparkling clean leads, there to provide depth rather than width.

Three of the four songs off the band’s EP reappear here in re-recorded form; “Mars” is again a behemoth opener, and “In My Room” remains an impressive show of dynamic range, but “Ghost in the Pavement” is the most impressive retooling—this version of the track is nearly nine minutes long, with a false ending two-thirds of the way through that builds back up to a woozy, cathartic finale. It’s the best example of the band building off their already solid foundation—and if they can do that with a follow-up to So Long, the next My Sister Maura release will be their opus.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

One Last Dream Before Dying has been a long time coming. Day Aches has been releasing singles since March of last year, well before their debut LP was even announced. Their earliest EPs fit nicely into the heavy shoegaze movement of the past couple years; as they developed their sound, they began to add elements of alt rock, grunge, and occasionally alt metal into the mix. One Last Dream is the culmination of all of that, the band’s best collection yet.

Day Aches are by no means the only band doing this “grungegaze” sound, but the equal weight they give to each style helps them feel unique among their peers; rather than just recycling Hum or Smashing Pumpkins riffs, the band pulls from the punk and hard rock that the original grunge bands forged the style out of. There’s a breakdown on “Leave,” and “Velvet Response” has the snarling melodies of early punk. Songs like “Arreis” and “Everything Blu” call to mind Pearl Jam buried under a layer of reverb, where “New June” is a fuzzier take on the grunge revivalism of Jar. When the band plays the heavy shoegaze angle straight is when the album tends to drag; “Lavender” would fit on a Trauma Ray or Narrow Head album without those bands’ typical bite. But as a whole, One Last Dream is a masterfully executed take on grungy shoegaze that plays specifically to Day Aches’ uniques strengths. Here’s hoping we won’t wait as long for LP2.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Texas’ Sunday Drive Records has been working with quite a few shoegaze bands lately, but Mad Honey is probably the most traditional one on their roster. The band is quicker to nod to dream pop trailblazers like Mazzy Star and The Sundays than the more alien sounds of My Bloody Valentine, say, and those band’s softer, more layered palettes are clear antecedents for Satellite Aphrodite‘s unobtrusive cloudiness.

Songs like “Tuff’s Last Stand” and “Psycho” are built on acoustic guitars that swirl under wobbly leads, and “Larkspur” is a three-minute climb to the sun, new wrinkles constantly being added. The songs are loud but never really heavy; “Heavier Still” is forceful and bold but never crosses over into being aggressive. Part of it, probably, is the way guitarist Tiff Sutcliffe’s honeyed voice just hangs there above it all. She’s never front and center but always manages to cut through, a bright hum that makes even the devastatingly harsh “Concentration” sound like a love song. Her soft coo elevates tracks like “ETYN” and the title track into genuine earworms. But when se hands off the reins to bassist Lennon Bramlett on “r u feeling it,” one of the album’s most upbeat moments, the album doesn’t falter; he proves a capable vocalist over the track’s throbbing electronic drums and brings to life its sunny melodies. Nestled toward the end of the record comes “Kamakura,” an acoustic song that serves to highlight Sutcliffe’s vocals. Even here her voice seems to glide over soft strumming; when she harmonizes with herself in the chorus, it’s haunting. The best bands in shoegaze don’t need to rely on walls of reverb or gimmicky effects; Satellite Aphrodite proves that Mad Honey can conjure emotion even in their subtlest moments.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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