The reverb-laden guitar cacophony, buried vocals and mood emphasis of the former were swapped out for focused distortion, pop melodies and distinct song structures of the latter in listeners’ minds. Shoegaze never recovered.
If Exit Calm had appeared in 1993, shoegaze might still be going strong. Armed with ear-splitting waves of reverb-heavy guitars that came to be the trademark of the genre, Exit Calm’s self-titled debut melds into their sound an invigorating vocalist concerned with making vocal melodies and lyrics discernable. What results is a batch of songs that take the best of shoegaze and the best of pop to make something entirely other.
The heady approach of early shoegaze may have been tolerated if only the songs hadn’t been so long: Most average over five minutes. Exit Calm doesn’t change this, as not a single tune dips below that mark. But it’s totally cool, because they don’t let the distortion dictate the tunes. This isn’t noise chopped up into arbitrary bits (as the worst of the genre can seem to be); these are full and whole songs, with melodies, structure and riffs. They use the distortion and reverb as a mood creator, but never as the main course. It’s a hat for the sound, not its shirt. And that’s a great thing for them to realize.
That realization makes songs like opener “You’ve Got It All Wrong” possible. They tone back the distortion enough so that listeners can hear the bass guitar line just go crazy, which it does for the entirety. It propels the song in a memorable way; I found myself head-bobbing at my seat. The fact that it’s really long is a bonus; about the time you think it should be over, half the song is left. Awesome.
There are still moments where sheets of distortion crush everything, as in “Don’t Look Down” and “With Angels.” But there are so many moments of twinkling guitar melodies, great bass work and solid vocal melodies that those parts feel like payoffs instead of repetitive. Mix in some slow, Mojave 3-esque tunes (“Serenity,” “When You Realize”), and you’ve got a bang-up album that’s worth repeating.
Exit Calm’s self-titled debut is an excellent collection of tunes that build on the scattered pieces of the ‘90s music scene to create something completely modern and fascinating. I look forward to good things from this band in the future. This is highly recommended for fans of alt-rock, modern or ‘90s. —Stephen Carradini