Yes, you should listen to this album. That said, The Goslings should have put a warning on the case: It may cause you to violently shake. Perhaps they developed this album as an adequate substitute for electroshock therapy.
In all seriousness, Grandeur of Hair may be the most important release in the shoegaze genre since about 1995. The Goslings made a completely original work in a genre that, by 2006 (and pretty much still to this day), was entirely based on nostalgia and the replication of a couple of bands. This was no small feat. Now, whether The Goslings knew they were making a shoegaze record is another matter. They don’t seem like the type of people to make a record consciously within a single, trendy genre. But the elements are all there: the washes of guitar, the ghostly vocals buried in the mix and the overall pursuit of sound rather than song. Everything is just more, well, aggressive and blown out. It’s like My Bloody Valentine forgot how to equalize. This was certainly intentional, with the sum total of the fuzzed-out bliss maximizing the “beautiful noise” of the genre’s greats.
Slowdive’s removal from Creation Records, spurred by popular fervor for Britpop bands such as Oasis, stagnated the entire shoegaze genre for over a decade, leaving us with detritus such as Lilys and astrobrite, who shamelessly tried to copy My Bloody Valentine’s sound. This was unquestionably a dark time for shoegaze, when it was considered little more than a blip in the history of British rock music. Shoegaze did not evolve according to the blueprint of Slowdive’s Pygmalion. That album mixed the genre with ambient techno, moving it out of the box of loud guitars. But the rest of the shoegaze world has remained stuck since 1991. With no releases from MBV or Slowdive during this time, there were no real opportunities for innovation. That is, not until this 2006 Goslings release pushed Loveless’s noise wall further than any album before it, rivaling the noise level of Les Rallizes Dénudés’ ‘77 Live.
Grandeur of Hair wastes no time in trying to make the listener deaf. The album opens up with “Own a Car,” which begins with shapeless cacophony. It’s easy to feel disoriented, but then Leslie’s Soren’s wailing, siren-like vocals sing quietly amidst the chaos. There is a strange peace to the proceedings. The listener slowly begins to focus on the emotional power of the music rather than its abrasiveness. There’s a certain yearning contained in the voice buried within sheets upon sheets of feedback — a rallying cry of depression. As the listener grows accustomed, the song throws a bone by adding drums, giving the unending noise a pulse. Indeed, in the warped reality the album has set in place, the tribal 4/4 drum seems like a godsend. “Croatan” might be the most “catchy” song on the album. The descending, ominous riff played amidst warped feedback sounds straight out of a Black Sabbath song. Leslie’s voice appears taunting and vindictive. About two minutes into the song, her voice rises, perfectly complementing the drone. Then, the song becomes even more aggressive, and the riffs become so maxed-out they practically break the microphone. There is a sheer emotional power contained within these seemingly straightforward moments. When the song “Golden Stair” wells up its somber organ, The Goslings demonstrate their ability to depict abject despair with sound. Usually shoegaze albums have this sort of hazy ambiguity in tone, but The Goslings challenge this practice by making the wall of sound work to a constructive end. Nobody can agree on what Souvlaki, Nowhere, or Loveless are exactly about, but there’s no doubt on Grandeur of Hair. The Goslings have some personal demons. And being able to recognize this concrete fact in something so experimental is refreshing.
By “Overnight”, it is easy to grow accustomed to how The Goslings play. The heavy riffs continue, this time even more somberly, and Leslie’s voice haunts the scene. But each song adds a detail to make it different enough from the last. “Overnight” also mutates to have a simple, melodic guitar line floating for the majority of the song, injecting a cautious moment of hope. “Sanibel” carries on like a more traditional shoegaze song, overtly psychedelic, but still carries the gravitas of prior moments. Even in the major key The Goslings sound defeated. “Haruspex,” the record’s thirteen minute climax, has a plaintive sense of closure akin to watching a beautiful sunset die.
One might argue that Grandeur of Hair doesn’t do enough with its formula. But this isn’t a White Album affair, where the artist attempts to make a collage of so many disparate ideas. This is an example of an artist attempting to make a completely cohesive, singular statement, and The Goslings succeeded. They created a sound-world like no other, full of strangely palatable dissonance that forces the listener’s consciousness into an unforgiving, hour-long state of alertness. If this description hasn’t scared you away, it’s definitely worth a listen.