The Telescopes

Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992

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Between 1990 and 1992, the Telescopes were on the kind of creative roll most bands only dream about. Newly signed to Creation after releasing a brace of scathingly abrasive recordings, including the underrated Taste album, for Cheree and What Goes On, the band launched a series of EPs that blended their noise rock tendencies with blown-out Technicolor pop and dreamy atmospheres and came up with the most psychedelic version of shoegaze of all their contemporaries. Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 collects the four EPs they issued (Precious Little, Everso, Celeste, and Flying), their breathtakingly good #Untitled Second album, a Peel Session from 1991, and some really nice bonus tracks. Taken together, the recordings build a pretty strong case that the Telescopes were one of the most daring, most creative, and most successful bands of the era: shoegaze, dream pop, or take your pick. On the EPs, the band plus their producers (Richard Formby and Guy Fixsen) were able to balance very poppy, built-to-top-the-indie-chart tracks like "Everso" and "Celeste" with guitar freakouts ("Precious Little), expanded headphone jam pieces ("Celestial"), psychedelic wanderings ("Soul Full of Tears"), dark dirges ("I Sense"), and quiet, almost hymnlike songs (the delicate "All a Dreams"). Plus they did a fine Beach Boys cover -- getting in ahead of the pack of Wilson fanatics with a majestic cover of "Never Learn Not to Love," penned by Dennis Wilson (and Charles Manson). These records showed the band gaining strength with each release, mastering songwriting, arranging, and the studio as they built up to their masterpiece 1992 album. Working with Fixsen, the band -- and especially leader Stephen Lawrie -- truly came into their own. From the very first notes, the songs burst out of the speakers with a graceful widescreen power. The guitars sound huge and fill every corner of the mix, Lawrie's sneering vocals sound rich and tough and tender all at once, the other bandmembers deliver seriously great performances, and the production is brilliant. The songs range from moody and almost jazz-like in their precision to sweeping epics that feel impossibly big, but all of them will stick in your brain for years to come. The EPs and album would have been enough to make the set essential, but the bonuses add much value. The Peel Session shows that the Telescopes were able to re-create the sound of the album on the fly, the covers of the Velvet Underground ("Candy Says") and the Who ("The Good's Gone") are pleasingly irreverent and bewilderingly weird respectively, and the rarely heard outtakes are awesome, especially the alternate version of one of their best songs, "Flying." While the Telescopes may not have gotten the same critical love as some of their peers, or reached the same level of commercial success, this set proves that they were the artistic equal of any of them. The set is an absolute stop-everything-and-buy-it-now must-have for fans of shoegaze, dream pop, and psych-pop.

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