The term “spacey” in reference to music has taken an interesting journey over the past 50 years. Originally associated with lounge easy-listening music, it evoked a feeling “contemplative spaciousness”. When rock bands started to associate with it in the 60’s it became more of a psychedelic feel while riding the cosmic boom of the space race. Late 80’s British bands started to revive it, evolving it to be a more ambient form of melodic pop. Now we have “Krautrock” and “Dream Pop” to categorize bands, but what does “spacey” mean today? Reading, UK’s Tripwires are attempting to bring that spacey feeling of “contemplative spaciousness” into their rock music with their debut album “Spacehopper Master”, and while it may not feel as classically “spacey” they certainly put in a good effort to contemplate their spaciousness.
Tripwires brand of “spacey” seems to come straight from the 90’s “British Invasion” influence. They cite Talk Talk as an inspiration, but you can probably throw a bit of Radiohead, Placebo, and even Bush in there. “Spacehopper Master” starts off with a title track of sorts which begins with a quiet ambience, before slowly adding layers of drums and guitars until it reaches a climactic apex. A simple and effective beginning that only needs 3 minutes to establish a grounding for the Tripwires. “Plasetecene” follows in what is probably the best track on the album, but it’s also the sound that will send you time travelling back to 90’s rock albums. It might have a lot to do with one of the gimmicky guitar effects that compromises the main hook of the song, here though the effect works great to give it some playfulness before it builds to a heavy Muse like crescendo, although I’m not sure why they spelled the title the way they did. “Feedback Loop” continues with a variation on that guitar effect (having the songs back-to-back I’m guessing would work great for live sets), it’s a more contemplative song but it still utilizes the build-to-a-crescendo that they’ve utilized in the previous songs which is still working for them. When “Shimmer” deviates from the pattern and starts off with some punch, you notice how the vocals are much more subtle than the 90’s Brit Bands that the sound is derived from, and exemplifies their shoegaze tendencies. “Love Me Sinister” sees them continuing with that guitar effect, but here the mood is “spacier”, and marks a transition to the second half of the album which will see the pace slowed. On the slower tracks like “Paint” and “Under the Gelatine”, the band starts to slip into a very 90’s basic-chord rock song mode which really doesn’t see the band at its best. “Catherine” and “Wisdom Teeth” change things slightly by altering back to the 90’s Brit Rock with a slow Travis like feeling. You can tell the band is taking influence from a variety of sources, while these tracks work better than the previous two, you kind of wish they would bring back some of the “spacey” bombasity the album started with, even if it just hinted at it. “Tinfoil Skin” does bring some of the energy back, this time letting a bass line drive the track that sees maybe a Dandy Warhols influence. “Slo Mo” is exactly that, a crawl of a song with basic chords that unfortunately brings the album to a weak close.
I wonder if there’ll ever be a time when “spacey” music will actually refer to things astronomically related. Perhaps it’s just a sign of our times, where we are apt to look inward more than to the outside universe. It’s a trend that you can see in a band like Tripwires, who seem to have some good ideas, and have taken some inspired first steps, but the inventiveness is lacking on these ideas that have been hashed and rehashed before. The young lads from Reading will most definitely gain some new fans that are fresh to this sound, but they’ll need to point their inspiration telescopes to the heavens to sustain successful future album missions.
– Michael Unger