LOOKING GLASS WAR – Where Neon Meets The Rain EP

On this debut EP, Boston’s Looking Glass War aren’t shy in mining the past for some key musical inspirations. Drawing from post punk, goth, melodic shoegaze and dreampop, ‘Where Neon Meets The Rain’ presents four very different songs – each showing a different angle to the band’s retro, riff-based sound – but this is more than a hacked out musical CV. Yes, the songs are all different, but there’s a common musical thread and a very distinctive vocal gluing the pieces together. In terms of debut releases it has a lot of muscle, even if originality often takes a back seat.

‘Arrive!’ opens with a repetitive, droning guitar riff and uses that to introduce some busy, well played post punk. From the moment the rhythm section kicks in, the number flaunts a really great bassline which dances confidently beneath a slightly distorted guitar. There are echoes of The Cult circa ‘Dreamtime’ coming through a couple of the guitar riffs, and something even gothier informing the bass grooves, but together, they create a perfect homage to the dark side of the mid 80s, which will almost certainly appeal to anyone who regularly reaches for those early Cult and mid-80s Killing Joke albums. The music is joined by a vocal that’s best described as an acquired taste. Frontman Goddamn Glenn takes a Glenn Danzig infused croon, but raises the tone to create an off-kilter wail. At first, it seems a little affronting; in time, its strange tones seem to benefit the music in hand, giving it an even darker quality and something undeniably alternative in an 80s sense. In terms of openers, it’s sharp and direct; the kind of track that allows listeners to explore the bulk of the band’s musical talents, but without giving absolutely everything away.

More of the same powers the energetic ‘A Tsar Is Torn’ with guitarist Pete Zeigler making great use of a circular, almost siren-like riff throughout the verse. His angry tones are immediately attention-grabbing, and along with Glenn’s insistence on delivering his vocals in such an affected way that any lyrics become inaudible, this gives the track a furious energy. Although the band probably feel the lyrical content is important, from the listeners’ perspective, it doesn’t matter so much, as Glenn’s relentless approach really sells an anger that’s wholly complimentary to the lead guitar. The rhythm section are given the unenviable task of holding everything together and actually giving the track a core melody, but as before, bassist Mike Ackley and drummer Tony Porter are a really tight unit throughout, with Ackley’s bass sound providing most of the track’s musical muscle. This full pelt LGW are a force to be reckoned with. Not everyone will take to their angrier side, but those who do, will love their take on a classic post punk sound.

There’s a very welcome musical shift for ‘I Can Tell By The Cars’, when the louder guitars make way for clean, shimmering tones with Looking Glass War adding a touch of dreampop to their light gothic sounds. Occasionally, the way the brighter aspects of the verse meet with a moody vocal seems reminiscent of Aussie rockers The Church; at other times, there’s a hint of The Bolshoi. By the time the chorus hits and a huge overdriven guitar meets a massive, crooning vocal, it’s very unmistakably the sound of the same band who delivered the spikier ‘Arrive!’ at the beginning of this very short musical journey. In some ways, this more melodic Looking Glass War tune feels superior, especially in the way Zeigler absolutely nails the dreampop tone. New listeners would certainly be advised to make this track their first port of call; in terms of melody, it’s the EP’s clear standout.

In closing, ‘A Gun In A Wall In A Scene’ opts for heavy guitars, but here, Zeigler uses his talents in a very different way, allowing the band to experiment with a noisier indie-based sound. The use of distortion set against groove laden drums places the core of the track somewhere between a ‘Dog Man Star’ era Suede b-side and a deep cut from the half-forgotten Longpigs whilst allowing for enough of Looking Glass War’s own identity to gradually seep through the cracks. Against the great riff, Glenn helms the EP’s best hook when he uses a rising melody to sell a strong chorus and the mid-tempo really allows for a greater focus on accessible riffs, before a ringing lead guitar adds a solo that straddles classic rock and a noisy glam sound. In three minutes, the band hits the listener with a near perfect 70s-via-90s arrangement that feels almost timeless.

There are some really good tunes here. The vocals take a while to settle in, but once the pieces all fit, even if the influences can be traced back much further, Looking Glass War’s twenty first century take on an 80s sound feels very welcome. Even if all four tracks won’t necessarily click with all listeners, for lovers of darker sounding rock, accessible post punk and hard edged indie sounds, this release will certainly offer something rather appealing.

October 2023