Amber Arcades’ “Canonball” is an example of shoegaze alternative rock that succeeds by using a mix of guitar sounds and capturing the ethereal qualities of the feminine singing voice. The artful and quirky result is a must-listen for alternative fans.
Amber Arcades and the alternative rock ethos
Amber Arcades’ new release, the five song EP, “Cannonball,” is a deftly crafted example of shoegazer rock. The term “shoegazer” (also known as shoegaze) was coined in the late 1980s. It is a term that refers to bands (alternative ones) that play while looking down, or otherwise not overtly interacting with the audience. There is another way to think about shoegazing—it is music that encourages listeners not to dance necessarily, but to look at their shoes (or just away from other people) and consider the sounds being played. The latter is how I think of Amber Arcades. If it sounds like the music for introverts, it probably is, or at least an introverted moment. “Cannonball,” the album and the song, are proof that a band can be low-key, while simultaneously being engaging and brilliant. The sound is soft, with fuzzy edges in the instrumentation and often melancholy lyrics.
The sound of Amber Arcades
Guitars that are at turns jangly, or hollow clear. High-voiced delivery that makes any song sound sweet. Drums that play persistent rhythms, but sometimes fade into guitars. The result is like trying to hear a sound in the distance while riding in a moving car. The impression of sound is what happens on the five songs of this album.
The title track tells the simple story of girl and boy meet and the girl has some expectations. It is difficult sometimes for alternative songs to move away from the roots of the genre. Here the airy, almost ethereal delivery combined with the unobtrusive instrumentation, reminds listeners of the Cocteau Twins’ “Pearly-Dewdrops Drops,” but without backing vocals, and even softer. The guitars play nice until about halfway through, when a shrill solo breaks up the delicate soundscape.
The song is romantic in a shoegazing kind of way. It is delicate and pretty in its desperately hoping approach. Audiences might wonder if the soft thump-thump of drums is meant to imitate a beating heart.
When audiences can clearly make out the lyrics and take them into consideration along with the guitar and drums, the result is a bittersweet example of contemporary alternative rock.
Clacking drumsticks open the song. The jangly guitars give the song a 1960s feel. The song has a faster pace and is as close to swagger as listeners will find on this album. While in some ways the approach is still unobtrusive, the narrator is more confident than she was on “Cannonball.” The fluctuations in interpersonal relationships are no more welcome, but at least this time they are expected. The backing vocals toward the end give the lyrics a knowing feel, and audiences can trust that the narrator knows of which she sings.
The song represents a narrator taking stock of things. Her register is a touch lower than on “Cannonball,” and she paints scenes of hanging out with the object of her affection, taking pictures. She’ll be the rock star, and he can be the guy hanging out with her, to paraphrase.
The album “Cannonball” by Amber Arcades should be required listening for anyone interested in artfully quirky alternative music. The recording’s simultaneously delicate and jangly guitars, feminine vocals and a soft-focus view of life, demonstrate that popular music need not be in-your-face to be memorable.