In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was a deceitful king who was punished by being ordered to push a giant boulder up one side and down a large hill for all eternity. What does that have to do with this particular shoegazing record? Everything. That boulder could very well represent the music industry from the perspective of The Lees Of Memory’s two founding members John Davis and Brandon Fisher. Both were part of the most underrated power-pop band of the 90s but just maybe, ever. In 1996 they were poised to take on the world with the success of their debut single “Sucked Out” but a year later they went against the major label grain and decided to produce a record that was too far ahead of it’s time for it’s own good. Instead of churning out “Sucked Out 2: The Soulless Sequel” the labels executive were hoping for, they made an album that audiophiles wanted to hear. With that came the inevitable strain between artist and executives that plagued most 90s alternative rock groups, resulting in the band being dropped from the label and forced to make the choice between letting the dream of being rock stars die, or start over. Much like the boulder Sisyphus pushed up and down that hill, Superdrag started the process over from the ground up. A venture that was met with critical acclaim but commercially mixed results.
Years have passed since Superdrag quietly (and sadly) called it quits, but it hasn’t stopped Davis from writing, recording, and releasing music. Between his ode to skate punk with his band Epic Ditch, two pseudo-gospel solo records, session work, and countless demos, he was able to write a few songs that were so sonically close to what Fisher had been brewing, that it was a no-brainer that they should join forces and collaborate once again, even if just for old time’s sake. Along with Nick Slack from Davis’ Epic Ditch and long-time friend, producing mastermind Nick Raskulinecz, work began on what would become this beautiful new project. Make no mistake, The Lees Of Memory are NOT Superdrag v2.0. This is entirely new endeavor for those involved. With this band, they leave behind all of the preconceptions that come with putting out music from a nearly two decade old band. This new found freedom shows in every aspect.
From the first twenty seconds of the opening track, you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. “We Are Siamese” is pretty much the greatest song My Bloody Valentine never recorded, but it has an emotional edge the shoegaze genre has never seen before: lyrical emotional impact. The next song “Little Fallen Star” plays a quick homage to Angelo Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks” theme before heading into more familiar power-pop territory. One of the many curve balls the listener will encounter along the way thanks to the band’s impeccable track pacing. As lush as the soundscapes are within the album, it never seems like the songs blend into each other, a problem that haunts other bands in post-rock and shoegaze genres.
Throughout the album, we are treated to all sorts of homages, and winks to other legends of the genre like Ride, Spaceman 3, and Lush just to name a few but even with all of these call backs, the album still manages to sound unique, exciting and fresh. One minute it’s sugary dream pop with tracks like “Open Your Arms” and the next it’s hypnotizing you with drum samples and guitar drones with “Reenactor”. Sandwiched between both sides of the album is “Don’t Part Ways”, a delicate, almost jazz influenced acoustic number that certainly sounds more Brian Wilson than Jim and William Reid. That kind of spontaneous influence makes this album just as exciting as it is beautiful. Just listen to the song “Landslide” never in a million years would I expect to hear a country tinged pedal steel coupled with synth drums, and doo-doo-waahh vocal cues in the same song. Trying to figure out how that even works makes my brain swirl! Unorthodox instrumentation and Raskulinecz’s slick production sets this album apart from the very records and bands that Davis and co. are seemingly writing love letters to.
It would be impossible to talk about this “Sisyphus Says” without name dropping other bands/artists within the shoegazing subgenre but this album is no way tied down to it. A band like My Bloody Valentine could never get away with a song like “(I Want You To) Let It Flow” with it’s southern gospel influence sounding like as if Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” was done by a church in eastern Memphis, yet The Jesus and Mary Chain has never recorded anything with lyrics as poetic and heart wrenching as “Deliquesce”. Is it even possible that a band this new, and yet to play their first live show (at the time of writing this review) has already conquered the genre that has just recently been on an upswing? Sounds like it!
Sincerity, beauty, and emotion are words that never come to mind when describing the shoegazing subgenre. How sincere could a band be while standing in one spot on stage, staring at the floor detached from audience eye contact? How emotionally striking could lyrics really be if you can’t understand a single word being said behind the wall of guitars and static? Yet those words are about the best I can do when it comes to describing “Sisyphus Says”. A beautifully crafted record from start to finish, filled with emotional songs, performed with sincerity and unsaturated talent by a band that has a bright future to say the least.Buy the vinyl at SideOneDummy Records