If you’re searching for a worthy young band of shoegaze proprietors you don’t have to look much farther than Wozniak. After two stellar EP releases in the last few years, Wozniak has finally taken the step of releasing a full length album. “Courage Reels” hits all the usual musical outlets on April 21st. The release follows their outstanding 2015 release of “Auster” and signifies the next step in the band’s progression. The Edinburgh quartet have often been compared to Mogwai, Slowdive and No Joy which is high praise indeed, but they are not a tribute band. Instead Wozniak is a singular quartet creating something uniquely their own; utilizing textured intensity that becomes a compulsive listen. “Courage Reels” reveals woozy walls of sound married to the mechanical percussive beat of Krautrock and lashings of pure power alt metal which all transpires over an expansive atmosphere. The songs are mostly instrumental with floating gossamer vocals expressed in a “speaking in tongues” style.
Wozniak was founded in 2012 in Edinburgh where the members were playing in various cover bands. The quartet is composed of Simon Cuthbert-Kerr on guitar, Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr on guitar and vocals, John Sinclair on drums and James Urquhart on bass. Simon, Sarah and John started the band with James joining shortly after. The band was named for Steve Wozniak co-founder and often unsung hero of Apple Computer lore. The band’s aim from the beginning was to make music that made the ears ring and hearts soar. Wanting to concentrate on recording the new release the band did not gig during 2016. They produced the album with Craig Ross at Depot Studios in Edinburgh. The recording sessions carried on throughout the year. The work that resulted varied from howling rage to sorrowful lament. The inspiration for the themes included loss, shadowy darkness and a sense of foreboding all conveyed in a type of musical chiaroscuro.
The album launches with “Shader” which is an explosion of intensely dense swirling atmospherics. The driving guitar and deep bass present an elemental and glorious moodscape that is best described as Neo Shoegaze classical music. The song is a perfect bridge from “Auster” and early adherents to the band’s prior works will easily slip into the new work with this song. “Ghosting” continues the progression with a dramatic Portishead intro but is different from “Shader” with its more dirge like feel. The glistening guitar provides a harmonic narrative over a large crystalline pure soundscape which is mind expanding and extremely compelling. The vocals in the song by Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr are a kind of Glossolalia used so memorably by Elizabeth Frazer of the Cocteau Twins. The tightly wound “Super Panther” has a more rock oriented feeling underpinning the song. The percussion drives the song and harkens to early Cure, think “The Forest” era. The outstanding fuzz guitar weaves and oscillates coming into the spotlight in the last minutes of the song with a satisfying rock groove. This magnificent track is filled with a cacophony of reverb, distortion and delays all making for an unrelenting emotional experience.
“Penhelion” was the first single released off the album and is like being set adrift amidst the universe. The song is a worthy cousin to “Snow Effect” off of “Auster” with its ethereal, interstellar evocative sonics. The track is so glorious that time seems to stand still on this rather lengthy song. It is an amazing distillation of all the goodness the band is capable of creating. “Scottish Dancer” has a slower tempo that begins with a spectacular reverbed guitar and blossoms into an expansive dreamlike selection. The vocals again by Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr produce this celestial icy cool. “Natsuko” captures the band at its most Krautrock. This uptempo track reminding me for some reason of The Pixies; the hefty throbbing feeling of the bass underpins the song. There is a juxtapositioning of simple and minimal with the counterintuitive feeling of soaring and majesty; every note is inspired and intoxicating in its allure. “Crush” marries the grinding gritty guitar with a miles deep bass making for a rhapsodic sound that becomes more addictive with each pass. Finally the shuddering “Death Suits” unreels providing a transcendent finale to the release. It displays every superb element of the band’s creativity, perfectly balancing light and dark while delivering their final definitive statement.
As with “Auster” “Courage Reels” becomes more compelling with each encounter. The band fully utilizes all the potential of their skills and instruments to win the listener over. It is an infrequent event when an album becomes a compulsive listen, but that is what happens with this release. The songs at first seem to be of a suite but when carefully listened to each becomes remarkably unique. “Courage Reels” is a perfect accompaniment to innovation; it is the kind of album to put on when attempting to be creative as it inspires and focuses the mind for the task at hand. Although the release does not emphasize lyrics, the “Puirt A Beul” technique of tunes from the mouth vocalization by Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr is intriguing and hypnotic. “Courage Reels” demands headphones to be fully appreciated, but however it is encountered it is a breathtaking experience that will drive you to listen to it repeatedly. “Courage Reels” is an outstanding release from an extremely gifted band.