Various Artists - Cherry Stars Collide – Dream Pop, Shoegaze & Ethereal Rock 1986-1995 (Cherry Red)

Various Artists – Cherry Stars Collide – Dream Pop, Shoegaze & Ethereal Rock 1986-1995 (Cherry Red)

The scene that saw its incarnation begin during that explored in this 4CD, 65-track compilation, Cherry Stars Collide, was one I found of particular resonance. This is the second collection released that has featured the music of Shoe-gaze, the first being Still In A Dream, but expanded here to include the styles of Dream Pop & Ethereal Rock, which it has to be said, just fits. Like the first, this features both UK and US groups active during this time, including some you may not have heard from before, such is the curator’s keen ear.

I would have to say the one band, signed to the label that would summarise this scene was Cocteau Twins, along with the label 4AD. Toward the end of the first disc you will find Cocteau’s ‘Iceblink Luck’, a single first released in 1990 and taken from their most popular album, Heaven or Las Vegas, which broke into the UK top 10, reaching number 7. Vocalist Liz Fraser is one of the most surreal vocal talents, who worked with another of the artists featured here, This Mortal Coil on their single ‘Drugs’. These were a collective, led by 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell, but to start this set is A.R. Kane’s ‘Lolita’, another band 4AD were to release the EP on which this track sits. It was One Little Indian Records who brought the band to the public’s attention, releasing the single ‘When Your Sad’ in 1986, and was the band’s Alex Ayuli who coined the term “Dream Pop” when asked to describe the band’s eclectic sound. How did that go for you, Alex?

With acts and songs included by such artists as, The Chameleons and ‘I’ll Remember’, which after 3’ and 15” of instrumental, continues with the quite bizarre 25” of vocal and alt/rock befitting the band. Then to Ultra Vivid Scene, as they take control of proceedings, with ‘A Dream Of Love’, lifted from their eponymously titled album released in 1988. These were a band who could lay claim to having had Moby, grace their numbers. It’s Brighton’s Frazier Chorus who have the single ‘Sloppy Heart’ featured. Vocalist Tim Freeman, known for his breathy and sometimes sarcastic delivery, I find from my research is the brother of actor Martin Freeman. Those more obscure numbers, include Area and their track ‘With Louise’ and were a band I had some difficulty researching at first, but finally found on YouTube and their album, on a popular auction site.

Vocalist Lynn Canfield offers a simply beguiling performance and a number that is taken from the simply brilliant debut album The Perfect Dream, released on the Third Mind label in 1988. What follows is the quirky ‘When I’m An Astronaut’ by English-speaking, French artist Louis Philippe. A number during which the vocalist tells us of his experience as an astronaut, singing “…no major Tom, no Captain Kirk will tell us what or why…”. It’s definitely an imagined account, taking references from both David Bowie and ’60s television Star Trek. There is no stopping this wonderful album, as what follows is the godfather of the scene, with David Sylvian, a musician who began performing music of this nature before we even considered it a scene, has his ‘Pop Song‘ played. The smooth and recognisable vocal tells us a story that we really need to hear, as The Avant-Garde musical score plays behind. This is a truly brilliant inclusion on the set and one that just keeps getting better and ever-so-slightly political. As the brakes are applied, what comes next is something of a curveball, but what else could it be other than Ethereal? From director David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and with music composed by Angelo Badalamenti, it’s Julee Cruise, and ‘Falling’, just “…don’t let yourself be hurt this time…”

Closing the disc is another realization that The Dream Academy was in fact of this genre, what else could they be? Having been an early fan of Nick Laird-Clowes, Gilbert Gabriel and Kate St John’s offerings, when they debuted in 1986 with ‘Life In A Northern Town’. The track featured here is from their final album A Different Kind Of Weather and it’s the John Lennon penned ‘Love’ that plays and what a performance. From the very ethereal soundscape, Nick chants a mantra in this ‘Harri Krishna mix’. His vocals combine with those of Kate’s, making this a mighty track with which to close this first disc.

On disc 2, following Lush’s ”Breeze’ and the lesser known, but totally infectious beats of ‘English Ruin’ by The Wake, is a single from 1986. Two and a half minutes of pure escapism and another truly valued inclusion by Blow Up. These are groups who had crossed my radar, as vivid memories of purchasing a 12” by the band, initially because of the artwork, but a band who soon became firm favourites. Signed by this point to Cherry Red as the release of their second album, they released In Watermelon Sugar featuring the song here, ’Heaven Tonight’. A group hailing from Brighton, they feature vocalist Nick Roughley formerly with 14 Iced Bears, also found on this collection. The curator has once again served the goods and chosen the crème de la crème of ’90s alternative music. The band Penelope’s Web includes the track ‘Lowsun’, lifted from their ‘Potboiler’ single. This hypnotic number starts with the pitter-patter of percussion and the heavy tone of the bass guitar before the number starts in full. From the vocal, it seems to be the telling of a relationship breakdown, with vocalist Dominic Silvani telling us “Don’t you remember, when we set this agenda/This is no time to surrender/Not now, we’re still at war/We’re still at war/Let’s exorcise a ghost/At least begin to live it down/This is the silence that I need to most/But when the guests are gone you’re still around“; a passage that made me howl with laughter. This is as bassist John Thompson provides a truly sublime performance, one that conjures memories of another bassist, Mick Karn, this is simply heaven.

Also featured are Portsmouth’s Cranes, as ‘Tomorrow’s Tears’ presents. Another totally beguiling offering, as siblings Alison and Jim Shaw, perform in a group who were named after the many mechanical cranes positioned in the city’s docks. Alison provides her child-like vocal method, which is so bewitching, I can even remember when and where I bought their debut album Wings Of Joy. This song starts with notes played on a piano, that although in no way the same, have a similar haunting effect as did Mike Oldfield’s composition in the film The Exorcist. The ethereal finds itself turning to the grunge side of rock, as Cambridgeshire’s The Charlottes, perform ‘Prayer Song’, a band who could so easily have could come out of Seattle in the late ’80s. Finishing off this 2nd CD are Drop with their ‘Within And Beyond’. The band are described on Discogs as a “Short-lived early ’90s UK indie band”, short-lived or not, we enjoyed their sounds. A familiar story, but a pity that so many fell by the wayside while possessing so much hope. I shall definitely put these on my wish list come Christmas time.

Disc 3 features Spiritualized’s ‘Feel So Sad Glides And Chimes’, but I have to ask why the band’s forerunner Spacemen 3 was not featured here, perhaps licensing issues? Another band that features, who were instrumental in the shoe-gazing scene, are Chapterhouse. Having started their progress in 1987, performing alongside Spacemen 3 they released 3 E.P.s from 1990 before their 1991 debut long-player Whirlpool. What we find here is ‘Mesmerise’, from their follow-up Bloodmusic. This was a less guitar-oriented, far more electronic-driven sound and as a fan who attended both incarnations, preferred the former, but that’s not to say that this didn’t have its appeal, after all, they were still shoegazers. 

Levitation, bring the ‘Coppelia Version’ of ‘Rosemary Jones’  to this disc. Guitarist with The House of Love, Terry Bickers, formed this band after leaving HoL, with drummer David Francolini. Also featured are Red House Painters, a band I always felt possessed a moreish sound, although had never associated them with dream pop. I hadn’t even considered they might be an American band, they were just one from the 4AD stable. Here you will find their ‘Japanese To English’, released in 1992, which was taken from their debut album Down Colourful Hill. This number is hypnotic, Anthony Koutsos’ kick drum, provides the opposite tonality to Mark Kozelek’s vocal. Attempting to understand the meaning of these words, I was thinking of a soldier’s tale of a wartime romance. “Of a different god and moral/What if I laid my head down on your stomach/And put my mouth to your hand/I cannot translate Japanese to English/Or English to Japanese”. Whatever it is, it just works and especially with the accompanying music. A group I would consider one of the more accessible of this genre is The Sundays whose ‘God Made Me’ features here. Harriet Wheeler providing vocals for the band whose easy swagger made their debut Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, a number 4 album in 1990. Having left Rough Trade, the track featured here is ‘God Made Me’ coming from their follow-up album Blind. They released this in 1992 on the Parlophone/Geffen label.

Disc 4 starts with Mazzy Star and ‘She’s My Baby’, walking confidently onto the disc’s tracklist. An American band, these formed in 1988 in Santa Monica, playing their brand of ethereal rock, accompanied by the lazy vocals from Hope Sandoval. It wouldn’t be shoe gazing if I didn’t mention Slowdive, a band that formed in Reading in 1989, with vocalist Rachel Goswell and guitarist Neil Halstead, and is still today rated as one of the scene’s leading talents. Here we hear ‘In Mind’ from 1993s 5EP. Live, this band played at the same time as others like Chapterhouse, Moose or Swervedriver and were central members of the shoe-gazing scene. This, with its heart-beating drum pattern, space tone keyboard and Rachel’s sweet vocals is essential listening if you are thinking about this time frame. Of those, half gems, ‘Dog-Eared’, by Tse Tse Fly, featured here has to be considered. This Leeds band formed by former A.C. Temple guitarist Paul Dorrington, along with Jayne Lockey and Simon Cleave, were to join The Wedding Present, but here present a soft tone and easy beat, with ‘Dog-Eared’.

London-based Drugstore has included ‘Superglider’ from their 1995 self-titled album. Brazilian-born vocalist Isabel Monteiro, steers us through around three minutes of dream-pop, slipping easily into this collection. American band Low ask whether they have to ‘Stay’, as this track from their 1995 album Long Division features. Described as an “indie-rock” or “slowcore” band, vocalist Alan Sparhawk would share these duties with drummer Mimi Parker, until her untimely passing in 2020. This number is familiar with the band’s approach, of smooth vocals and easy pace, as Sparhawk and Parker ask the question “Do I have to stay?” as the bass-line swoops downward, as Parker brushes the cymbal. Although this isn’t the final track, I’m going to give this honour to Dubstar and their ‘Just A Girl She Said’. Vocalist Sarah Blackwood starts its passage with “It’s alright/I’m just a girl she said/Talk down to me and take me to bed/I don’t feel/I don’t think/And I don’t really matter at all”. This is a song that hits home in today’s climate and should be considered essential listening.

This collection is on another level. Compiled with such care and knowledge that as mentioned earlier will have the benefit to surprise, not just at the wealth and depth of those numbers included, but the bands who have featured. There are tracks listeners will feel should be included, as those that shouldn’t. But for my ears, this is the gospel as far as compilations of this grouping go.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.