Looking back, it had to happen. The first wave of English shoegaze acts hit the States in early 1991, with Ride and My Bloody Valentine leading the charge. The UK press had been pouring hype on these bands (and several others) for a number of years to the point where all would eventually try their hands in the US to a minimal amount of success. Ultimately, Shoegaze was to become passing phase in the UK, superceded by the Grunge whirlwind, but it left enough of an impression in the growing American underground scene to inspire college kids with pawn shop guitars to pursue making a different kind of noise.
In truth, very few American bands tried their hand at the “shoegaze” sound and very few American bands actually reciprocated to any noticeable degree. Boston’s Drop Nineteens were one of those exceptions that took elements of that sound, the white noise guitars and chiming melodies and turned it into something else. A pale imitation of the pasty English scene they were not, but in this incarnation the band were just as short-lived.
Debut single “Winona” opined against success-seeking bands, yet its driving beat, strong melodies and Greg Ackell’s clean vocals caught the right attention in the UK press before the band had even played a local show. Much like “Winona”, Delaware thrives on its nascent freshness, a sense of a band taking delight in making noise with Ackell and guitarist Paula Kelly’s vocal melodies smoothing out the rough edges and giving the songs focus. The band play their full hand early on with the title track opener and its calamitous drum breakdowns and reverberated guitars, but quickly change gears to avoid repetition.
The 8 minute quasi-instrumental “Kick The Tragedy” falls somewhere inbetween My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon” and Chapterhouse’s “Pearl” with a spoken-word piece in the middle that ultimately lights the way for bands like M83 to find inspiration. A cover of Madonna’s “Angel” comes off as neither kitsch or ironic, a rehearsal favourite that perhaps made the cut. Dispensing with Miss Ciccone’s soft sugar coating, the band turn it into their own raging epic with some intense guitar soloing by Motohiro Yasu.
Second single “Your Aquarium” showed a surprising flipside to the band, a simple acoustic duet between Ackell and Kelly that revealed immeasurable talent and charm. The electric version taken from the Your Aquarium EP which make up the extra tracks on the album is an additional highlight, but it doesn’t surpass the unhinged romp through Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”, the Nineteens reverting to a drunk college party band and revelling in it.
I’m biased. I loved this record when I first heard it, loved it even more during an absent winter wander through the back streets of Boston, accidentally stumbling onto the barbershop in the cover. It’s a little uneven as debut albums go, but then so were the majority of shoegaze bands who never really fulfilled their own ambitions, or to quote the Nineteens own “Winona”, became “another record shop story that was born to die”. Such a fate would become the Drop Nineteens, but with this reissue, they briefly live again.