Shoegaze and dream pop, the perennial buzz genres of the indie world, are by this point a little stale. Breaking through the noise is a hard thing to do, and many choose these genres as masks for weak songwriting and performances.
Bodywash is not one of those bands, and its brand of shoegaze is not the drab, tired kind.
The Montreal-based duo of Chris Steward and Rosie Long Decter, who hail from London, U.K. and Toronto, Ont. respectively, were raised on opposing musical diets — Long Decter on folk and Steward on the U.K.’s rich lineage of dream pop.
That mix of influence is what sets Bodywash apart. The folk side of things means a focus on tight songcraft often ignored in the genre, and the respect for the old heads of shoegaze means that the sounds present here are varied in the way that the genre was in its early days, before it ossified into its current-day signifiers.
All over this album there are nods to the ethereal, floaty sound of Cocteau Twins, the gothic, industrial tinge of A.R. Kane, the driving force of Ride or Swervedriver and the ambient leanings of My Bloody Valentine.
The opening song, “In As Far” is about as audacious as an opener can be, beginning with a full two minutes of amorphous instrumental before forming into a sort of Madchester rave groove with gorgeous, wordless vocal acrobatics on top.
“Picture Of” has a the Cure-like focus on the bass, offering the album’s first real pop song. Track three, “Massif Central,” is its first rock song, and has a driving force that sits comfortably alongside a nimbleness in its melody.
Across the record’s 12 tracks, Bodywash switches modes like this with ease, indulging in Grouper-like fuzzy experiments on “Bas Relief” and “Dessents,” bouncy synth pop on “Ascents,” New Age on “One Day Clear” and downtempo on the lovely closer, “No Repair.”
Occasionally the album’s crystal clear, tightly wound production leaves less inventive tracks like “Perfect Blue” or “Sterilizer” bordering on H&M fitting room music, and the album has some of the least-inspired album artwork I’ve seen in a long time.
But, for the most part, I Held the Shape While I Could is a breath of fresh air in the crowded dream pop landscape, and a varied and constantly engaging trip through all sorts of shoegazing.
Bodywash’s I Held the Shape While I Could is available on major streaming platforms April 14.