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The Telescopes

# Untitled Second

Rating: 4.0

Label: Bomp Records


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The Telescopes’ landmark album Untitled Second is now reissued on CD by Bomp Records. Unfortunately, The Telescopes never became quite as renowned or legendary as their contemporaries The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Verve. It’s a pity, because this album can make a strong claim to marking the advent of British shoegaze as much as either Psychocandy or the Verve EP.

In all fairness, Untitled Second primarily shows Stephen Lawrie and company as simply being part of the styles and scene of England in the early 1990s rather than transcending it; whereas their most notable rivals expanded their sound through drone and fuzz, The Telescopes seem submerged in it. Perhaps it’s the lack of a dynamic singer – Lawrie’s vocals are dreamy and drip with distinctive Northern English tones, but they never approach the power of Richard Ashcroft or even Ian Brown. While Lawrie’s songwriting is no less skilled, the hooks are just a little less catchy and a little further apart; it’s a cruel quirk of irony that such a talented songwriter is overlooked not because of his deficiencies, but because those around him shine so much brighter.

Still, Untitled Second is a brilliant piece of craft: there are no glaring weaknesses here, just very little that stands out. Most of the songs (in particular, opener “Splashdown” and the ebullient single “Flying”) are built around simple acoustic patterns and then layered with guitars so fuzzy that they border on the heavenly. Lawrie’s voice, despite its thinness, fits in so closely with the rhythms and drone that it rests somewhere between hypnotic and soporific, while the female background vocals are almost indistinguishable from the instruments themselves. The guitar work is sometimes overly influenced by the chiming fluidity of The Stone Roses’ John Squire, but, hell, show me a guitarist in England in those years who wasn’t.

The album’s best songs, like “Spaceships,” mine the combination of spaced-out folkiness and amplified grandeur that Pink Floyd kick started years ago, allowing lyrics like “Thrown away, returned, became your sunflower/ Only growing up to your clouding eyes/ Some kind of welcome in you is like a rush right off my face” to somehow sound significant, rather than willfully opaque. Despite the influences that The Telescopes proudly wear on their sleeves, they somehow manage to mold their own sound on songs like standout track “High on Fire.” The song begins with a deep, simple bass under hovering guitars and slowly builds as the drums kick higher, higher, higher until it all explodes into a gentle acoustic guitar and begins again.

Untitled Second
will probably always remain in the shadow of its greater brothers, particularly as bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain reunite to critical and popular acclaim. Then again, perhaps The Telescopes will benefit from this resurgence of 1990s shoegaze. Whichever happens, the band can remain proud for creating something both beautiful and highly original.

by Nathan Kamal

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