Band of the Day

2012.10.11

Young Prisms

Suitably dreamy shoegaze revivalists from San Francisco, CA
Where have you gone? Tell me it's been too long.
lyrics from Gone

Picture it: December 2010 – a month before their debut album release, San Francisco’s Young Prisms are finishing their tour of the UK when suddenly they are stranded in a grounded Heathrow Airport due to an epic ice storm. Sleeping on the ground alongside thousands of others for a full week, fighting for food and water, a cloud of darkness overcomes them. For one member, the situation is just too much to handle. Maybe it’s sleep deprivation, or maybe just the stress of bomb threats, one member becomes crazed, attacking another with a leather belt and knife. The situation calls for more than a warm cup of cocoa.

A little over a year later, Young Prisms sees the release of their sophomore LP In Between this spring [March 27, 2012] on Kanine Records. Still a five piece, (albeit a different five) the album captures the highs and the lows of the last year. Born out of the traumatizing Heathrow crisis and the death of a loved one, a strong sense of rejection, loneliness, and despair all play a huge role in the creation of In Between.

However, It’s not all doom and gloom and it’s not like childhood friends Gio Betteo and Matthew Allen didn’t see the changes coming (they named their first album Friends For Now). They just didn’t expect it all to happen in such a dramatic fashion. Still united with singer Stefanie Hodapp and drummer Jordan Silbert, the Prisms welcomes a second female vocalist/guitarist, Ashley Thomas.

It’s this addition that brings a softer, more melodic touch to their fuzzed out sound. If Friends For Now yields comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain, In Between lends itself more to the Mazzy Star, Slowdive end of the spectrum – and one need not look any further than lead single Four Hours (Away). Its gentle swing and sullen vocal sweep will melt hearts and help pass those cold and dark hours.

To spotlight how the band has made peace with the past year, check out Runner, which will put a bounce in your step, while Dead Flowers has the Prisms stepping on their pedals harder than ever. Album opener Floating in Blue will fill your head with swirly dream pop and the guitar-drenched Midnight’s When pays homage to the innocent 50’s inspired lullaby that Mary Chain fans will swoon to both awake and asleep

Enlisting the production of Monte Vallier (Weekend, Mark Eitzel) and once again as a full five piece, the Prisms sound refreshed and Young again. With Allen having moved outside the city, Betteo and Allen began traveling back and forth in between homes to write this record. The result is a perfect soundtrack to the loneliest road trip down California Highway 1…where the lights dim and flicker as the sun sets on the pacific while the fog and haze return to the Redwood Forests and Coastal Cliffs.

We aren't going to get through this review without using the word shoegaze, so may as well start with it. Though shoegaze was mostly a blip on the cultural radar in its late 80s/early 90s heyday (except in England where it oddly and briefly brushed the mainstream before the alt-rock spotlight shifted to Nirvana and grunge) it's had quite the revival over the last 5+ years. While many artists have been fusing shoegaze with a plethora of other genres, Young Prisms take an if it ain't broke don't fix it approach, sounding gorgeously similar to My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, the definitive shoegaze album.

The San Francisco band has two full lengths to their name, and if their 2012 release In Between isn't a departure from their shoegaze sound, it is a refinement, bursting with softly breathtaking, nostalgic melodies. Young Prisms' core sound consists of losing themselves in lapping waves of fuzzed out guitar, hypnotic drumbeats, and dreamily lackadaisical vocals that bring back 90s warm and fuzzies where you could be a slacker and that was O.K.

Young Prism's best moments hit that transcendent mix of dreamy haze and wistful beauty as the lyrics take on a meaning greater than the words themselves. “Dead Flowers” begins with a steady punk on downers drumbeat and darkly swirling guitars, while male/female vocals flow into each other, settling in on the beautifully melancholy and knowing phrase “you see it all the time.” With it's softly chiming, bittersweet guitar and rosy atmospherics, the album's highlight maybe “Runner.” When they hit the chorus, singing “well if you run with me/I'll run with you too,” it's just as dreamily fluid, sadly romantic, and pretty as anything turned out by Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Ride or any of the other first wave shoegaze bands.

You could dismiss Young Prisms as another band with a sound stuck in the past, but that would dismiss the excellent songwriting that ultimately makes rock music interesting in the first place. And for people like this writer who will probably never get bored of the velvety walls of guitar and nostalgic dreamlands of shoegaze, Young Prisms are outstanding torchbearers.