Release Radar: Drop Nineteens 'Hard Light'
The indie darlings are back with their first release in 30 years.
Today we’re listening to ‘Hard Light’ by Boston’s Drop Nineteens
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In early 2022, Greg Ackell found himself wondering what Drop Nineteens might sound like now.
Thirty years earlier, Drop Nineteens were indie darlings touring with the likes of Blur and PJ Harvey. In 1992, they released the (now) classic Delaware LP. That was followed by the…not so classic National Coma in 1993 and the band’s slow dissolution shortly thereafter. Today Ackell, Steve Zimmerman, Pete Koeplin, Motohiro Yasue, and Paula Kelley have reunited to release Hard Light.
I’ve been struggling to find an answer to the question 'why now?' What was the catalyst for getting back together after so long? The best answer I can come up with is this was the first moment in my life since stopping making music that I got curious to hear what Drop Nineteens might sound like now. And there was only one way to find out!
With this release, the band has dispensed with any artistic or industry constraints they likely felt 30 years ago while maintaining fidelity to the sound that made them great.
Hard Light kicks things off. With a Slowdive-y vibe and gentle swirl, it takes time to build. The track feels more like an intro than a fully formed song. Ackell and Kelley whisper, “Time/ it’s of the essence,” mindful of the time that has passed and not wanting to let any more slip by.
That’s followed by lead single Scapa Flow with its two-chord progression riding on Steve Zimmerman’s bass lines. It won’t be the last time he shines on the record. Fun fact: after we talked about this single in August, friend of On Repeat Dave Fitzpatrick, wrote to tell me that Scapa Flow was a body of water in his native Scotland. I had no idea. Come for the shoegaze, stay for the limnology.
The theme of time shows up again on Tarantula with Ackell declaring, “I feel like it’s after school / In the afternoon / In the afterlife.” this is also a track that would easily fit on any Ride record. In the shoegaze world, time is squishy.
Drop Nineteens have always been a band good at crashing opposite styles into one another. On ‘The Price Was High,’ Paula Kelley takes the lead on vocals, her light poppy sound blending nicely with Yasue’s crunchy guitar and rolling long on another slinky bass line. ‘Rose With Smoke’ is an instrumental palette cleanse and serves as a good dividing line between the (relatively) harder side A & softer B.
Kelley’s reverse looped backing vocals are a nice touch on ‘A Hitch,’ the sound bouncing between the speakers lets your mind wander. ‘Lookout’ dips a toe into the realm of folk. It's much more acoustic than the band’s normal fare. That’s immediately followed by ‘Another One Another,’ which brings us right back to familiar waves of distortion. To my ear, this track is the shortest line between Hard Light and Delaware.
Speaking of which, Hard Light continues the band’s tradition of adding a cover song. Having previously gone as far afield as Madonna’s ‘Angel’ and the Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right,’ they stay a little closer to home this time with Clientele’s ‘Policeman Getting Lost.’ It’s another acoustic track; it’s lovely, and again, time rears its head with the lines“Haunted by the figures of your friends/but if you get too tired you can lay your head across my pillow / Darkness coming quick this time of year,” which is, well, timely.
Closer ‘T’ is a 7-minute bender that is Hard Light’s version of ‘Kick The Tragedy’ closing out the record on a solid note.
Ackell wondered what Drop Nineteens might sound like now. Hard Light smooths the edges records like Delaware left. There’s a nostalgia—and patience— here that obviously wasn’t possible 30(ish) years ago. The Drop Nineteens of today are more comfortable taking some sonic risks and pushing in new directions while still staying true to their original sound.
This is a band that has made peace with the past, not one trying to relive it. Ackell & Kelley’s voices still sound perfect together, and tracks like ‘Another One Another’ and ‘The Price Was High’ make you feel like it’s still 1992, listening to a tape after school.
With 'Hard Light, the band sounds like they’ve never taken a day off.
Drop Nineteens | Hard Light, 2023
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As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this record!
Thanks for being here,