Sometimes you wonder if the music of the moment is a specific reaction to the spirit of the times, the psychic atmosphere, current events, or the general vibe. Listening to Laveda, a new band from Albany, New York, I was curious if the overall cocoon-like sonic feel was in any way a response to the agitated metabolism of the first part of the 21st century. If there is something along the lines of a shoegaze revival underway right now, harkening back to post-punk bands of the late-’80s and ‘90s, why is it happening now?
I spoke with the two main members of Laveda, Jacob Brooks and Ali Genevich, by phone from their hometown, last week, on the first day of a tour that will bring them to Monstercade in Winston-Salem this week, on their way to South By Southwest in Texas. Fans of new music know that the festival circuit creates its own migratory patterns. In the same way that birds and butterflies make epic journeys as the weather warms and cools each year—logging miles to get to where they need to be, emerging musical artists often traverse continents and oceans to play in front of receptive audiences, taste-makers, record-label people, writers and booking agents. Those annual rhythms create regular paths and circuits for bands making their way to Austin in a series of eight and 10-hour drives from their starting points. If you know where to look during early spring, you can catch some of the most exciting new bands just before their brushes with mass-exposure and whatever still remains of the star-maker machinery.
Laveda has had good fortune in that regard, from the start. When they were making their first recording at a friend’s place in Brooklyn, someone visiting the studio liked what they heard, and that person happened to have an affiliation with Pitchfork. So there’s been a healthy amount of interest in the singles that Laveda has been steadily sharing on streaming platforms in the lead-up to what will be the release of the band’s debut album, What Happens After, which is scheduled for release on April 24.
One reason Laveda might sound the way they do is because Genevish grew up listening to alternative rock of the ‘80s and ‘90s. “My parents raised me on The Cure and The Smiths, just really good music,” she said.
Brooks and Genevish are both in their early 20s. They were born after the full flowering of bands like Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. Those bands made lush and abstract post-punk that was both pretty and ambient-leaning, with lots of echoes, reverb and smeared sonic textures. Indecipherability was rarely viewed as a flaw in the world this music inhabited.
A whole generation of 21st-century bands have kept those sounds alive with different degrees of darkness, light, clarity and atmospherics— artists like A Sunny Day In Glasgow, the XX and many others. Shoegaze, as a genre, always suggested a withdrawal from the traditional roles of the performer, a general ambivalence about being the center of attention, and a certain shyness that was essentially at odds with the kinds of overt exhibitionism one associated with being on stage. But even aloofness can be its own kind of act. Laveda is shoegaze-y more in the way they gravitate toward rippling washes of sounds, with guitars that sound hazy and atomized as opposed to brawny or muscular.
“A lot of our songs start off very acoustic and then turn into a very crazy loud thing when we record them,” Brooks said.
More so than shoegaze bands from the ‘90s, Laveda seems very much at home with the sugar-rush payoff pop pleasure. Synthesizers add another blanket of texture to their songs. The melodies are elegant and alluring, hypnotic in the true dream-pop sense. The songs are often built around guitar parts that chug out steady eighth notes, but there are layers and layers of other sounds at work.
Laveda does a lot with dynamics and production, with the songs emerging out of a low hum or a whoosh of almost inaudible murmurs. Brooks and Genevish said that some of their creative collaborators brought elements like vocal samples and the rhythmic rumble of liquid bubbling, some of which you can hear if you listen close. But more than any added sonic touch to the songs, one of the defining aspects of Laveda’s songs is the way that the musical backing might drop out for a verse, or a high-pitched feedback pattern might be left isolated after the bass line, and drums get stripped away momentarily. It’s not quite the stark loud-quiet-loud of grunge, but there’s a similarly dramatic use of contrasting dynamics. The most recent single, “Ghost,” has moments where Genevish’s airy and delicate flute-like voice stands almost alone and places where the guitars build to big crescendos.
All of the songs withstand repeated listening, in part because each one has a variety of ways that the melodies unfold and develop. Songs like “If Only (You Said No)” make the most of the play between highs and lows of the pair’s vocals.
Brooks and Genevish met while in high school in Saratoga Springs, New York, which is not far from Albany, and they played in another band together before starting this project, which more evenly showcases both of their talents. The songs were written and recorded as a duo, but Laveda is a four-piece on this tour. When I asked them why they thought this dreamy slightly retro sound was having a mini-renaissance, Brooks and Genevish suggested that music is often an escape and that this particular music is possibly a way of checking rush of time and the frantic sense of distraction many of us feel with the nature of the present.
“People around our age, I feel like there’s just this sadness about our current state of the environment and everything, and a lot of my friends have depression and anxiety, and sometimes I feel that way,” Genevish said. “But this music kind of slows everything down and gives you a minute to breathe.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Laveda at Monstercade, 204 W. Acadia, Winston-Salem, on March 5.