Odes to the Void by Life on Venus (Review)

The Moscow shoegazers return with ten tracks of brilliant shoegaze that’s hampered only somewhat by a muddy mix.
Odes to the Void - Life on Venus

Earlier this year, I reviewed Life on Venus’ Departure EP, calling it “a nice dive into the darker, gloomier range of the shoegaze spectrum.” The EP was intended as a precursor for the upcoming Odes to the Void LP (three of the EP’s songs appear here). Put simply, Odes to the Void completely fulfills the promise of that earlier EP and then some, with ten tracks of excellent, stirring shoegaze rock.

In keeping with the Departure EP, most of the songs here are on the dour side, i.e., the perfect music to listen to whilst staring pensively out the window at the rain pouring down outside. (Which, if you’ve spent any time at all following my writing, you know is one of my favorite moods.) As such, the Moscow quintet don’t deviate from shoegaze’s tried and true sonic formula, from the shimmering notes and cavernous drums that open the album on “Glass Gardens” to the fiery wall of noise that comes crashing down at its end, courtesy of “At the Point of No Return.”

As a rule, you don’t really listen to shoegaze music for the lyrics. After all, one of the cardinal shoegaze rules is that vocals are just another instrument, and so they’re often buried beneath layers of effects-laden guitars — so it’s not like you can really hear what they’re singing, anyway. À la Cocteau Twins’ glossolalia, it’s all about the mood.

And yet, when Dmitry Kostryukov, Alina Heiremans, and Elizaveta Startseva harmonize together while singing “It feels like I’ve lost control/I feel so cold but this is how it goes/I say that I love you so/You always like to doubt it” (“Glass Gardens”), there’s real emotional weight there, not just angsty preening.

“Startide” is the album’s most upbeat track, with crashing drums and ringing guitar hooks that evoke classic Lush, so when Kostryukov et al. sing “I see an endless sky/It’s full of blinding lights/The ocean looks alive/As mighty waves arise,” it’s easy to get caught up in the distortion-drenched optimism. And when the band goes wide-eyed romantic on the big-hearted “The Night is Young,” with lyrics like “Can’t you see/The night is young and so are we/I can’t breathe/My heart is full of love I can’t set free,” I can definitely imagine NME and Melody Maker going crazy for it — were this 1990 instead of 2019.

Of course, you can’t actually make out many of these lyrics — I often have the album’s Bandcamp page open while listening to it — which brings me to my only real criticism of the album: the production quality. (I had similar issues with the Departure EP.) A lo-fi pall hangs over the album, which gives these songs a muddy, demo-like quality. I’m no fan of unnecessary or overbearing studio polish and there’s something to be said for ethereal music with grit and imperfections (e.g., I love the crunch of the guitars on the chorus of “What Lies Beneath”). That being said, these gorgeous songs would definitely benefit from a slightly cleaner mix.

It’s a testament, though, to Life on Venus’ talents as a band that even with that production issue, the beauty of these ten songs still shines through, making a must-hear for modern shoegaze fans.

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