Graded on a Curve: Saccades, (S/T)

Saccades is the new side project of Nicholas Wood, a Berlin-based musician some will recognize as one half of The KVB, an outfit who’ve been pegged as a synth-pop post-punk merger, more tersely as darkwave, and on their own website as blending “reverb-soaked shoegaze with minimalist electronic production.” Saccades is none of those things, instead offering an appealing slice of psychedelic indie guitar pop, but aspects of his main gig do shine through. It’s out now on vinyl and compact disc via Fuzz Club Records.

The above descriptors of The KVB, which finds Wood in partnership with Kat Day, are all fair, though breezing through portions of their discography revealed less overt synth-pop than expected. What arose in its place was a combo of darkwave, with an emphasis on moves familiar from late Joy Division, and a more electro-friendly Jesus & Mary Chain/ shoegaze approach, which reinforces The KVB as being as focused on guitars as synths.

Ultimately, this solo turn is distinct but not entirely surprising. Recorded and produced by Wood last summer during a break in The KVB’s touring schedule, Saccades was captured using an old Tascam tape machine, the device delivering a stripped-down “classic” feel that nicely complements these motions beyond the garage.

Fuzz Club’s promo text describes Saccades as lo-fi, but opener “Distant Sea” is quite vivid as it leisurely unwinds, though it does benefit from a lack of sheen. Much of the song’s appeal derives from its guitars, mingling structural strum with clean, bright guitar leads, but the breathy vocals and interjections of hovering keyboard add value, and the bass and drums are effectively unfussy.

“Bleeding Colours” is livelier as it embodies a strain of electro-shaded indie pop, with the guitar mildly reminiscent of New Order. To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the vocals, though Wood’s slightly drowsy emoting sidesteps mimicry. And if Saccades’ strong-suit isn’t freshly broken ground, Wood does have a handle on range, blending some neo-psych into the sturdy pulse of “Elusive Dream” and then turning toward more sophisto pop climes in “Crying Land.”

While he never loses track of the guitars in Saccades’ scenario, the frequent use of synth/keyboards lends a touch of freshness to well-trod territory. However, “Gone Too Soon” once again moseys into a New Order-ish zone, but as in “Bleeding Colours,” the resemblance isn’t overstated, and it’s also true that New Order hasn’t sounded like this in a long time.

“In and Out” switches it up a bit, being more keyboard-driven in its initial moments. The song gradually moves in a neo-psych direction, with strands of organ deepening the ’60s undercurrent as waves of guitar rise in prominence. From there, the sustained keyboard tones and amp shimmer at the start of “Know My Name” conjure images of Jason Spaceman and the Reid brothers eating ice cream cones on the steps of a dilapidated church, a vision only enhanced once the kick drum enters the fray.

But “Know My Name” is also the first track on Saccades to really place its reality as a solo project in the foreground, sounding a tad thin (but not anemic), though the fuzz guitar near the end does provide a boost. “Running Wild” finds the ’60s psych and the ’80s keyboards meshing productively, while “Red” takes a solid turn back to indie pop, and with an emphasis on pop. Contrasting, “Cigales” ups the momentum and focuses on jangle; if “Red” mildly evokes Postcard, “Cigales” gets closer to C86.

“Early Rise Again” brings some goodness late in the game, possessing an almost motorik drive; indeed, it’d sound spiff while speeding along a highway, and the organ in the latter portion gives it added kick. Rather than a final punch of energy, “High Drift” somewhat unexpectedly bestows the LP with a moodier ending. It’s a tricky maneuver, but Wood pulls it off, mainly because it’s one of the stronger songs in this bunch.

Saccades isn’t poised to blow minds, but that doesn’t seem to be Wood’s objective. Instead, he appears to be striving for an engaging reshuffling of the familiar in the tradition of the genres dabbled in across these dozen selections. And the imagery formulated by “Know My Name” aside, he doesn’t succumb to excesses of attitude; the music stands on its own, and the results are modest but refreshing.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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