For Against are a classic music obsessive's group. They're
unheard of by most and only release albums every five or six years
or so, but are fiercely revered by fans who find that their atmospheric
dream pop has the rare knack of highlighting its influences while
Those influences seem to have changed somewhat since the band's last
relase, 2002's Coalesced (which was actually recorded a few
years before, but got stuck while waiting for a sympathetic label
to release it). The expansive, sparkling sound of that album brought
to mind lost shoegaze greats like Kitchens Of Distinction,
Pale Saints or Ride, but the overall feel of Shade
Side Sunny Side is a lot darker - think early New Order
or Section 25, with gloomy echo and feedback and other guitar
textures over moody basslines and staccato drums.
It's possible that some of this changed emphasis is due to the return
of original guitarist Harry Dingman; he's been away for an
amazing 20 years (since the December album of 1988), and his
icy guitar tones here definitely bring that early work back to mind
more than his replacement Steven Hinrichs' work on the more
recent records. However, drummer Paul Engelhard and bassist
/ singer / lyricist Jeffrey Runnings are still here, and Runnings'
lyrics have definitely taken a darker turn. On most of the For Against
albums Runnings sounds wistful and reflective, but here he's often
downright gloomy - not that this is necessarily a bad thing, think
of the early Cure's rapid transition from Three Imaginary
Boys through 17 Seconds to the nigh-on desperation of Faith
or Pornography, for example.
Dingman is really hot throughout this record - he obviously didn't
put away his guitar during the 20-year interregnum (in fact, the guitarist
stayed busy by forming the Millions with original For Against
drummer Greg Hill; their albums M Is For Millions and
Racquel are well worth checking out). He kicks off the first
track, "Glamour," with squalls of feedback over icy keyboards
and Runnings' chant of "You can only get so far with that je
ne sais quoi", then kicks into high gear with soaring, chiming
guitar figures topping Runnings' urgent bass.
That said, there's plenty of variety here. "Game Over"
is a gentle, piano-led respite from the guitar maelstroms, but bass
and fuzz guitar boom in at the end like gathering clouds until they
break into a full blown storm to make one of the album's highlights.
Special mention also for the Section 25 cover "Friendly Fires,"
which betters the original despite being one of its writers' best
Shade Side Sunny Side might be a bit more of a difficult
listen than For Against's previous work, but you'll be amply rewarded
if you stick with it.
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