Drop Nineteens, “Hard Light”
By Jesse Locke · October 31, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Three decades after their original run, cult shoegaze band Drop Nineteens have been rediscovered by a new legion of listeners. Songs from the Boston group’s 1992 debut, Delaware, like their noise-pop tribute to Winona Ryder and the nearly nine-minute drifter “Kick the Tragedy,” now rack up hundreds of thousands of streams per month. Recorded while Drop Nineteens’ members were still university students, Delaware earned critical acclaim upon its release, yet the quintet only survived several years before disbanding. This made the announcement of their original line-up’s reunion all the more surprising, with a comeback album that feels like their Jazzmasters never left their hands.

Drop Nineteens rarely fit comfortably into the shoegaze mold, with songs like Delaware’s “Reberrymemberer” featuring Unwound-style screams and their 1993 sophomore album National Coma embracing shiny alt-rock hooks. On Hard Light, the quintet continue to color outside of genre lines, blurring the distinctions between dream pop and Midwest emo on “Gal,” toying with morose jangle on “Tarantula,” and delving into psychedelia with the backmasked effects of “A Hitch.” As the years have passed between releases, Drop Nineteens have developed a newfound sense of patience, letting songs breathe with lengthy instrumental passages before vocals appear. While their shimmering riffs ring out, the drums and bass are kept sparse, maintaining hypnotic pulses via mid-tempo motorik rhythms.

Dual guitarists/vocalists Greg Ackell and Paula Kelley haven’t lost their chemistry, with his understated delivery perfectly complemented by her whispery cooing. Kelley takes the lead on “The Price Was High,” accenting her voice with plucked acoustic guitar, and processing it through electronic effects on the Clientele cover “Policeman Getting Lost.” The soaring harmonies of “Scapa Flow” are reminiscent of Blonde Redhead, while the melodic minimalism of “Lookout” could be mistaken for an Ira Kaplan song by Yo La Tengo. Hard Light concludes with “T,” this album’s answer to Delaware’s “Kick the Tragedy,” as a lumbering breakbeat loops through seven minutes of shoegaze bliss.

Reunion albums can run the gamut from the blazing power of Dinosaur Jr. to the embarrassment chills of the New York Dolls reworking their songs in a cod-reggae style. Thankfully, Drop Nineteens have largely stuck to the fluid formula of their early ’90s recordings, amplifying gauzy pop hooks with feedback-laced guitars while trading off between their two singers. This sprawling album marks a welcome return from one of America’s most undersung indie bands, giving new generations a chance to bring them to light.

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