For Tracy Hyde’s Perfect Bleu will make you feel like a glitter-filled balloon floating past the scene on its evocative cover, if you can get into its sound.
Artist: For Tracy Hyde
Album: Perfect Bleu
Label: P-Vine Inc.
Shoegaze in 2017 isn’t so much a genre as a constellation of sounds. In the starscape we have dream pop bands like the Cocteau Twins and Asobi Seksu, blackgaze bands like Alcest and Deafheaven. On its fringes are bands in the post-rock spectrum, Sigur Ros and even Mogwai (sometimes), then we even have oddballs like Boris and The Novembers, but at the center is always the almighty, the revered, the over-scrutinized My Bloody Valentine. Shoegaze is a bright, brilliant constellation that has attracted bands and listeners for going on two decades. The problem with such brilliance though, is that in order to stand out as more than a part of the whole, one has to burn particularly bright.
For Tracy Hyde stake out their claim well in the dream-pop area of the ether on Perfect Bleu. It would be easy to believe that For Tracy Hyde has two principal songwriters who split the album down the middle. The first half is shoegaze tinged indie-pop while the second half is indie-pop tinged shoegaze. Same flavors on both ends, just a different emphasis. This reviewer finds the shoegaze base to be the more fulfilling, but there are plenty of great moments on the indie-pop half.
After a lovely introductory track, “Her Sarah Records Collection” really kicks things off and serves as a highlight of the indie-pop side. It’s chorused, reverbed, and echoed guitar jingle-jangles a guitar figure that rides the line between arpeggio and riff. With an instrumental feel the recalls the Cure at their most upbeat, the song actually sounds like the feeling of getting a tingle down your spine. In second-half highlight, “あたたかくて甘い海” (“Warm and Sweet Sea”) allows vocalist Eureka to soar over a lush and warm sonic bed. Where some bands get lost in the pursuit of processing their guitars, For Tracy Hyde always makes sure you can walk away humming their tunes.
What works less well are the songs that break the dream-pop/shoegaze mold, most especially “Outcider”, with its syrupy, jazzy chords. Unlike the majority of the album, which makes me feel lifted bythe band-generated breeze, this is a pedestrian bounce. Like the band is breaking its stride so that people will have something to dance to at shows. Not only that, but its got an issue with the very high and very loudly mixed vocals.
Which leads into a threshold issue some will have with the band, Eureka sings high and soft as a rule. Kitty-cat vocals. Helium vocals. I can dig them, but the issue of the vocals deserves diving into a little bi because it bring up a cultural issue as much as an aesthetic issue.
I was speaking with a friend about music the other day. We were talking about a particular girl-group and its related solo projects. The friend strongly dislikes the girl-group’s music but likes one particular member’s solo albums because, according to her, on the girl-group albums she “can’t sing”, but on her solo albums she can “actually sing.” I don’t mean to be the social justice police here, but I think that’s a culturally-blind criticism. To analogize, the sound of Chinese opera vocals will send plenty of people to stick steel wool into their ears, but few would level the criticism that a Chinese opera star “can’t sing.” People recognize that it’s not as though Chinese opera singers were aiming for Adele and accidentally arrived at cat-grinder.
And yet, when people hear Japanese female vocalists, it is surprisingly common to hear the criticism that they “can’t sing.” No offense, but actually, some offense, this is flat-out cultural bias. The vocals we typically associate with Japanese females are actually called, jigoe, or “natural voice.” It is noted for it’s clear, nasally pitch, which tends to give female singers a very youthful tone. Once again, these singers are not aiming for Adele and ending up at helium.
Western music, by contrast uses a style called “bel canto”, the thick, chest generated tone that is the pop standard. Jigoe is not that, nor does it aim to be. Of course not all Japanese ladies favor jigoe, Utada Hikaru utilizes the bel canto style exclusively.
Then why are jigoe singers criticized for lack of ability? Like very few things in life, I’m going to have to blame this squarely on singing shows like American Idol. These shows have given the common viewer bizarrely narrow parameters to define “good” and “bad” singing. In the show’s wake, huge, gigantic, showy bel canto singing became the only type of singing that is considered “good.” This is a shame because singers as legendary as say, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and David Bowie would be “bad” singers by those parameters.
So, where does jigoe fit in to this spectrum? In the post-American Idol world, big, thick voices are the only ones that are acceptably good. Thin, non-chest voice, are unequivocally “bad.”Jigoe singing does not sound much like a “good” bel canto voice. So, to your average armchair critic, jigoe vocals are indistinguishable from run-of-the-mill “bad” singing.
Why bring this up? For Tracy Hyde’s Eureka most definitely employs jigoe singing. These songs get noisy, so her vocals are mixed high. I recognize that not every one prefers this singing style, after all, I don’t subject my tender ears to Chinese opera if I can help it. Just don’t let me catch you calling out For Tracy Hyde for having a “bad” singer.
In the end, no matter how pleasant the melodies, no matter how dreamily they dream pop, no matter if the band personally takes you out to dinner for the sole purpose of convincing you that Perfect Bleu is a great album, you’ve got to hang with the jigoe if you’re going to hang with For Tracy Hyde. I can hang with it, so Perfect Bleu is a great.