Dead Leaf Echo plays the release show for their debut album Thought & Language on Feb 27 at 10:30 at the Mercury Lounge for $10. If this had come out on 4AD in 1989, it would be regarded as a classic of its kind today. The band name is well-chosen: their music has a vividly chilly autumnal feel as well as a reverberating, hypnotic ambience. Wet, shimmery, frequently icy layers of guitar mist swirl and echo through simple, catchy hooks that often bring to mind bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush in their early years. Call it shoegaze, or dreampop, or goth, it’s a mix of all three.
The album’s opening track, Conception, sets the tone, a rain-drenched soundscape morphing into an insistent, cyclical hook, riffs echoing dubwise throughout the mix. The second cut, Kingmaker opens bright and ringing like mid-80s Cure, echoey guitar screams fading into white noise a la the Church. That band is echoed even more vividly on Featherform, a mix of elegant jangle and nebulous shoegaze, its clangy lines rising insistently and then blending into a lushback drop for a baroque-tinged outro. It segues into Internal with its dreaminess juxtaposed against steady bass chords, once again building into an intricate, majestically enveloping web of sound.
Language of the Waves blends the catchy, chiming bounce of late 80s bands like the Mighty Lemon Drops with more ornate sonics. Memorytraces (a free download) is the album’s best and loudest song, a swaying, catchy anthem with a terse, incisive flange guitar solo and a lush, distantly jangling outro with biting harmonic flourishes. Like many of the tracks here, it segues into the next one, Birth, with it simple, direct bass pulse, pensive anthemicness and insistently crescendoing guy/girl vocals.
Child rises out of a hazy tone poem of sorts to a breathless pace, followed by the rising and receding waves of Thought, distantly majestic slide guitar moving through the mix. Dream of the Soft is sort of a gentler take on the blend of folk and new wave that the Railway Children began their career with, a New Order-ish bass hook rising and eventually pushing everything to the side.
The bouncy Heavensent is sort ofa hybrid of the Cure, Lush and the Coctean Twins, period-perfect wthout being cheesy or a ripoff. By contrast, the slowly atmospheric Gesture reverts to early 90s Church sonics and dramatic heft. She Breathes goes for more of a late 80s pop feel amidst the grey-sky ambience, while Birthright brings in a marching goth vibe.
Flowerspeak, with its bass hook anchoring the spacious, minimalist melody, could be the Police if they’d stuck around after Synchronicity. The album ends with Language and its contrasting high/low, light/dark textures and echoey raindroplet guitar awash in banks of reverb. It’s music to get lost in, a treat for fans of dark, pensive, rainy-day music. One thing on this album that would be good to hear more of is guitarist Ana B.’s voice: she nails the moody uncertainty of the era the band has embraced. It’s tempting to say that they’ve coldly embraced it, but that be an extreme for a band whose sense of the understated and the enigmatic is their greatest asset.