Guitarist Doug White's new group, following a fractious split with his former bandmates in Tearwave, perhaps unsurprisingly continues a fair amount of the post-shoegaze spirit of that band, with echo, reverb, and lush guitar textures aplenty. There's also singer Emma Willis providing a similar contrast against the electronic wash and sometimes overload with her keening, swooping voice, and other comparison points can be made. But Makaras Pen, if building on familiar ground, deserve recommendation for their own qualities, especially in a time when shoegaze and its immediate antecedents have rarely had so much cachet among newer bands. Beginning with the strong "Currents," which alone demonstrates the group's ability to not only perform a song well but ratchet up the performance to more powerful levels as it progresses, the 11-song album sets a consistent mood -- both positive and a bit of a drawback. In the latter case, the band's fine performances and songs tend to blend together, a rich combination of rhythm-heavy songs with shimmering guitar that turns into blasting feedback as Willis soars along that is almost like a too-rich dessert over the course of the album's full length. But individually, songs like "Sacrifice," especially with the sudden punctuation of Dennis Caswell's drumming, and "Falling Deeper," with its lovely chorus and instrumental break, help vary things a touch. Also, "Tightrope" has to get some credit just for the near black metal howling toward the end -- it's an out-of-nowhere addition but works perfectly well in context. -Ned Raggett
Born in Buffalo, this able four-piece combines the hard (the band) with the soft (Emma Willis's vocals). See also: Lush, Curve, and the Cranes. It's an old trick, and Makaras Pen sounds like a throwback to a decade or so ago. The press materials describe them as "female-fronted shoegaze renaissancers."
Makaras Pen Successfully Stare At Shoes
Those unfamiliar with shoegaze should probably be made aware of some staples of the subgenre. Generally, heavy effects create a drone of distorted guitar, working cohesively with vocals that act as another instrument in order to accentuate the melody lost in the fuzz. The lyrics of such groups tend to border on the side of melodrama, speaking of heartbreak, loss and uncertainty. When measured by these standards, Makaras Pen, the Buffalo, New York-based band fit quite well within the genre on their self-titled debut album.
This is not to be confused though; Makaras Pen are nowhere near as self-deprecating as any number of contemporary emo groups that could be mentioned. There are no cheap, emotional ploys used to grab the listener’s attention. Instead, the band relies on their extensive knowledge of shoegaze and their long-standing friendship to convey true sentiment. Added to the plethora of comfort and familiarity within the group is the twist of including touches of aggressive indie rock to the mix. Lead singer, Emma Willis, offers sensitive and heartfelt vocals to sad yet hopeful lyrics. The spacey ambiance created by the wailing effects of the guitar (provided by Doug White and Jon Nemi), solidifies the forward motion of each song.
Album opener, “Currents,” makes itself immediately accessible by offering upbeat, 80’s style gloom pop to the high register of Willis. Guitars strum, vocals over-dub and drums drive the song ever forward. When the chorus kicks in, the music slows to a head bob-inducing pace, due in large part to the heavy distortion layered on top of everything else that is going on. “Falling Deeper” opens with a similarly gloomy intro, but finds a lighter note in which to present the chorus. The 80’s feel is heavy, punctuated by the laser-like effects of a somber guitar. Willis contributes to the cheerless tone with lyrics, “Words we shared they seem so faded/What’s said between us dies within us anyway.” Despite this, Willis’ delicate, warm vocals keep the song from reaching full-blown melodramatic levels.
Throughout the listen, the one word that comes to mind most frequently is consistency. While this is generally a positive for most bands, it hurts Makaras Pen a bit. The vocals of Willis, the spacey effects of the guitars and the largely grave nature of the album can feel too measured and predictable to command the listener’s complete attention. What Makaras Pen has done with the release of their self-titled album is contribute to the recent development that has involved bands beginning to make shoegaze relevant once more. Since fading from the public eye in the early nineties due to the emergence of grunge, groups such as M83, Silversun Pickups and Broken Social Scene have borrowed from the lost genre, dubbing a new movement known as “nu-gaze.” The newest album of this movement is utterly listenable, bound together by Makaras Pen’s mastery of the genre. Of course, the one problem the group faces is keeping the songs from blurring together. As the album moves further along, some listeners may grow weary of the persistently downtrodden mood that accompanies most of the tracks. Overall though, Makaras Pen delivers a well produced, inviting and genuinely interesting album that should have listener’s looking back in the past, as well as to the future, to the far-from-dead genre that is shoegaze.
It's surprising to hear that Buffalo, NY's Makaras Pen claim they are looking "to evoke any emotion good bad or indifferent." After all, indifference is generally not a response a band would ever strive for. Fortunately, Makaras Pen's debut does not cause the listener to feel indifferent. Instead, the blend of droning guitar riffs with the dreamy vocals of Emma Willis make this is an effort worth checking out. Willis' voice is powerful and hypnotic, particularly on the intriguing "Sacrifice" and the beautiful "Envy And Lust." They go in a different direction with the romantic acoustic track "Spent Time With You," while the intense "Opus 6" drops the vocals completely, opting instead for heavy distortion and careening guitars. At times, the band drags on, taking a dreary turn on tracks such as "Tightrope" and "Promises." Minor missteps aside, this is a promising debut. —Jessica Simons
Rating : 7 | Doug White ci aveva già dolcemente stupito con i due eccellenti album dei delicati e onirici Tearwave, portando nel nuovo millennio una marcata nostalgia per le produzioni 4AD e per un particolare modo di intendere la musica darkwave, a cavallo tra eterea e shoegaze. Oggi, quello che può essere definito come uno dei più puri discepoli di Robin Guthrie si affaccia sulle scene con un nuovo progetto dal nome Makaras Pen. Assoldati da Mr. Rosenthal e la sua Projekt, danno alle stampe un album che rimane per certi aspetti ancorato a questo tipo di sonorità, per altri ne segna un distacco a favore di una maggior propensione verso un indie-rock dalle tinte oscure e dallo slancio post-rock. La qualità delle composizioni non raggiunge gli alti livelli dei Tearwave, ma fa registrare comunque una forte personalità e una professionalità al di là del comune. Di esperienza, nel quintetto di Buffalo, ce n'è, e si sente. Basta ascoltare la trascinante progressione del brano di chiusura "Opus 6" per farsi un'idea della qualità del prodotto. Poi la voce di Emma Willis (che a tratti ricorda Cindy Levinson dei Levinhurst e a tratti quella della cult-band italiana Sybil) è una ventata di aria fresca: pulita e precisa nella tecnica sfoggiata, timida e introversa nelle emozioni che intende far scaturire dagli argomenti trattati. Quello che manca è forse una varietà nelle linee melodiche e nel timbro, che rischiano di stufare l'ascoltatore per la loro ripetitività e che, tra l'altro, poco si adeguano alle parti più grintose e graffianti. Il sognante pop dei primi brani, in bilico tra Slowdive e i più recenti Cocteau Twins, mette in luce quanto le parti 'pulite' (in questo caso le strofe) siano più adatte alle corde della delicata voce di Emma, e probabilmente la Nostra avrebbe dovuto marcare le altre con più grinta. Schema che peraltro si ripete nella maggior parte dei brani, soprattutto nella prima metà del disco. Quando i Makaras Pen si liberano da questi schemi sfoggiano le prestazioni migliori, come nella leggiadra "What's Really Happening", gioiosa e nostalgica nel ricreare atmosfere proprie della giovinezza, o nella trascinante "Through The Mirror", dove Dough si esibisce anche in un assolo dopo il riuscito refrain. Schema ancor diverso per "Tightrope" e "Envy And Lust", caratterizzate tanto da strofe coinvolgenti quanto da ritornelli meno convincenti. Nel dettaglio, la prima si forgia di un pregevole inizio darkwave, di un inaspettato refrain acustico, di destabilizzanti scream vocals maschili nella parte centrale e di un coinvolgente crescere in stile shoegaze nel finale. La seconda, anch'essa accattivante nelle note iniziali ma debole nel ritornello, presenta un duetto con Jeff Kanfender dei Daysleepers. La conclusione è però di ottima fattura, con la già citata "Opus 6", un volo ad ali spiegate nel post-rock più emozionale, un affresco che timidamente disegna le prime linee con plettrate in stile mandolino, per poi esplodere in trascinanti cavalcate dal profondo mood. Un buon lavoro, sicuramente apprezzabile da un vasto range di pubblico e che pone le basi per ottime prospettive future. - Silvio Oreste
Arising from the ashes of Tearwave, Makaras Pen are moving with this first work in the elaboration of a granular and fluffy, sound of roots shoegaze put up-to-date with succulent aires indie-pop. Where the blurred textures of Tearwave embracing the melancholy and the more dreamy density, Makaras Pen weave a fabric more dynamic and vigorous. The result is heady: fair dose of darkness and coldness to qualify a music of angelic voices, seductive rhythms, powerful atmospheres and walls of infinite guitar overflowing in intricate Crystal tangles with enough power to sound grandiose without be thundering. The sound continues to be muscular and powerful despite the delicacy and sweetness that gives it the voice of Emma Willis. There is no doubt that Dough White, brain and soul of the group, is a talent to be reckoned within the renewal of the path initiated by groups such as Lush, Slowdive, or Cocteau Twins. Songs like "currents", "Sacrifice" or "New beginnings" sound with an intensity of overflowing, reaching peaks of sweetened and dramatic epic on "promises" and the huge instrumental "Opus 6". And if "Falling deeper", "What's really happening" or "Through the mirror" they get into tight watermarks, "tightrope" is thick and darkens to be almost abrupt. A fluffy Duet with Jeff Kandefer, also highly recommended partners of sound The Daysleepers and an innocent acoustic ballad titled "Spent with you" is completed with this wonderful work whose lyrics of gloomy failures, hopeful glimpses of euphoria and inevitable incursions into the pain does not but finish round out this little masterpiece. A perfect record to fall in love under the snow. -Invierno von Marcham
Projekt Records se caracteriza por ser un nido de sirenas, contando con una amplia gama de voces femeninas ligadas al mundo darkwave. Dicho sello, esta vez, apuesta por un soni- do más fresco e indie rock. En su de- but homónimo, Makaras Pen navega por mares del shoegaze, hilado por la dulce y etérea voz de Emma, quien logra oníricas tonalidades en temas como ‘Tightrope’ y ‘Falling Deeper’. Su fundador, el guitarrista Doug Whi- te (ex Tearwave) desarrolla a lo largo del disco texturadas melodías, llenas de reverb y delay, pero en “Promises” y “Currents” desborda oleadas de po- tentes riff, sin caer necesariamente en lo agresivo, lo que lleva a un justo equilibrio entre delicadeza y fuerza. Este quinteto de New York entrega nuevos aires al sonido shoegaze y dream pop. Cristián Carrasco
This debut album is a great start for this band and is a true gem. It comes packaged in probably one of the last jewel cases we'll see from Projekt Records. It comes with some pictures and lyrics and eleven powerful, yet dreamy tracks.
It kicks off with my immediate favorite piece from this band "Currents". This track shows this band at their best and is a pattern for the entire album. It takes a full blend of everyone's talents and contributions. The guitars go from soft and simple, to driving, lush and distorted to almost symphonic in nature. The percussion moves things along nicely from piece to piece and also helps to add some nice variety. The bass is solid and is a definite driver for most music in these related genres. And to cap it all off we have Emma's lush, angelic vocals that really hold me spellbound throughout the album. Like related bands such as Cranes, Mira and Cocteau Twins, the angelic vocals are an excellent offset to the driving guitars, creating a beautiful masterpiece.
For the most part each piece is fairly upbeat, which in some ways is a disappointment with the beauty of this music, a few more ethereal pieces would be so nice for our the ethereal music lover in me. Luckily there is one excellent downtempo piece "Spent With You" that is superb in it's, soft, dreamy way. Other pieces come close and really follow that shoegazer pattern of soft and sweet at first to a driving and powerful climax, making each piece unique and powerful in their own way. It's hard to single out other favorites, the album is packed with great tracks, from the sweet, but powerful piece "Promises", "New Beginnings" or the finale instrumental piece appropriately named "Opus 6". Overall it's a great powerful album and I highly recommend it for any fan of these related genres. Rating: 5/5
Boasting a winning surplus of ethereal vocals, lush arrangements, and thoughtful lyrics, the eleven extremely moody, yet melodic songs on this indie pop-rock shoegazer album make a potent and lasting impression. Emma Willis’ exceptionally lovely, fragile, and captivating voice and smart and reflective songwriting make for a formidable double act. No foolin’ about the arrangements as well: the chugging bass lines, dazzling swirl of whirling guitars, and neatly layered charging drums ensure that the finely honed music is buffed and shined to a razor-sharp glowing polish from start to finish. Luckily, there’s plenty of heartfelt emotion and rip-snorting vitality to further enhance all the admittedly praiseworthy slickness, thus giving the listener the best of both worlds. An excellent album. - Joe W.
Concrete Blonde meets The Cure...Makaras Pen is just that & then some, the bands soft spoken female vocalist delivers a solid performance of softly sung vocals on each track while the band plays alternative rock that's layered very well with guitars, drums, bass & other instruments which make it all sound full & rich. "Currents" is a great opener...it sets the pace for a record that's about self discovery, bad relationships & growth. I think I'd describe this record as Courtney Love on prozac...what I mean is that the tunes are solid, soft, very female, yet NOT aggressive, NOT harsh, NOT ugly, NOT anything like Courtney Love, yet there's that balance where IF Ms. Love could balance her life out, be calm, this might be what her music could sound like...I also am reminded of a mellower version of The Cranberries when I listen to this cd. Overall, cool, melancholy music...I'll just say though, if you're depressed, you might not want to listen to this disc..it's dark overall!
51 minutes of shoegaze rock music. Willis' ethereal voice is the keynote lynchpin of this music. Her delicate crooning conveys an otherworldly cadence that is tremendously provocative and mesmerizing. Simultaneously silky and forceful, her vocals caress the ears with a resolute authority that is perfectly matched by the sparkling instrumentation surrounding it.
The guitar is crisp and sinuous, delivering fluid chords that slither through the mix with subtle puissance. Each note spills like a sparkling waterfall, drenching the listener with near-narcotic euphoria. Riffs cascade like expansive and inescapable waves. The notes seem to blur together once they hit the air, creating a shimmering effect that promises to last forever. The bass is particularly compelling, establishing a subterranean growl that transcends conventional foundations with its cunning presence. This hidden rumble reaches into the audience's cellular structure, altering DNA with each thump. The percussion is stalwart and enjoining. The beats often possess a fuzzy edge that is quite engaging. Urgent rhythms thunder away, yet are relegated to a vantage deep within the mix.
These compositions exhibit a remarkably contrasting dose of flash and darkness. Searing dazzles pierce a delectable gloom, banishing anxiety while allowing an attractive murkiness to linger. The lyrics explore a similar void, communicating sentiments trapped between loss and gain, languishing in a realm where regret is equidistant to pleasure.
Pretty sure I'm not alone in wondering what/why the fuck Kevin Shields has never brought something new from My Bloody Valentine out to the public over the last 15-20 years. If, like me, you've found yourself wading through many of the other shoegaze/dreamscape artists to emerge over the years, then hopefully you'll find something good from Buffalo's Makaras Pen. Named after a traditional creature in Hindu mythology, Makaras Pen clone to the best of their ability, that blend of love and lust in their music.
I don't think Makaras Pen stands out as the successor to the MBV throne, and frankly why would we want someone to step up where Shields has left a longstanding hole. Instead, Makaras Pen blend the beautifully dreamy vocals of Emma Willis and the intoxicating and powerful music from her bandmates to create a mythical creature all of their own. Makaras Pen has a solid foundation for the future, with 11 gorgeous melodies that will at the very least satisfy your most recent cravings for something outside of the mainstream and give you great hope that maybe you've found a new centerpiece to that long-absent rung in the shoegaze ladder.
I put this album on the same tier as early Medicine or Lush. They all exposed themselves to the music world in a genre that gets very little attention from the mainstream and still manages to create a world all of their own for themselves and their fans.
Being as this is the band's debut album, it's hard to call them world-changers, yet I'm compelled to yank off my leash and say Makaras Pen is going to be special. Ask me in 5 years how much I love this band, and I imagine I'll have them playing in the same tier of my home jukebox (online & cd player) that currently houses Lush, Jesus & Mary Chain, and yes, My Bloody Valentine.
Recommended if you like: My Bloody Valentine, Medicine, Shallow
Maybe I’m off my nut here, but it seems to me that one aspect of shoegaze music that’s never been fully explored in its 25-odd year history is its potential as makeout music. I’m reminded of this as I listen to the self-titled debut by MAKARAS PEN, a new act which evolved out of the one-and-done dreampop outfit TEARWAVE. Take “Tightrope,” the epic constituting the album’s midpoint, for good example. Clean, reverbed guitar lines move slowly across a thick carpet of fuzz, while EMMA WILLIS coos deep in your eardrum; the music flows in a deceptively lazy manner, building up organically to a roaring climax. It’s the aural equivalent of running your fingertips over your lover’s bare hip, brushing your lips on the nape of his/her neck, caresses becoming more firm as you struggle to contain the urgency, until both of you explode into a single mass of undulating intensity. Mind you, the lyrics to “Tightrope” and most of the other tunes wallow in romantic misery and self-loathing, but the pure sensual noise created by Willis and the guitars drowns out the darkness in a swirl of tension and release. The exception is “Spent With You,” a loving tribute to the afterglow settled in acoustic guitars and the title’s double entendre. Shoegaze has always had a reputation for gloom, but Makaras Pen sounds more like the soundtrack to your next erotic evening. - Michael Toland
A review from The Daily News. McKeesport PA:
No mistakes and no hits. That’s how I sum up Makaras Pen’s 11-song self-titled debut. The band was founded by Doug White of the defunct Tearwave. This shoegaze/indie rock outfit delivers simple and elegant guitar riffs, and features the angelic, passionate vocals of Emma Willis. The best guitar work on the album is during “Sacrifice” and “Through The Mirror.” Good job by White and bassist Val Hill. Acoustic track “Spent With You” is about someone reminiscing about past love. It’s perfect teen romance fodder. Skippable tracks include “Promises” and “Envy and Lust.” (Michael DiVittorio)
坦白地讲，这是一张动听的专辑，只是在听过了太多的shoegaze之后，这缥缈的女声和游弋的吉他都只像是过眼云烟一样轻飘，从你的耳畔流过却没有一丝沉积。此外Makaras Pen又被贴上了“Projekt”的标签，本没有太大问题的一张专辑就这样多了一条“审美疲劳”的罪责。 不过Makaras Pen确实与Projekt有着颇深的渊源，乐队的Doug White原本是Projekt旗下另一支乐队Tearwave的创始人、吉他手、曲作者，在Tearwave解散了之后Doug就重新招揽了一众人等组建了现在的这支Makaras Pen，尽管Projekt的大老板Sam对这支新乐队倍加推崇，然而在听过了他们的首张同名专辑之后我只想用“换汤不换药”来形容他们，另外作为一支游走在shoegaze和indie rock之间的乐队，Makaras Pen的造型也实在很有问题——乐队男成员膀大腰圆的身材和清一色的黑衣造型，以及女主唱黑眼影、夹杂着紫色挑染的黑发、随意的T恤衫，Makaras Pen怎么看怎么不像是玩儿shoegaze和indie rock的乐队。对于Makaras Pen的推广，Projekt把他们定位成了“女声shoegaze复兴者”，Makaras Pen听上去的确有点Lush、Swallow、Mira之类乐队的意思，然而只不过是形似而神不思。想充当复兴者，Makaras Pen还相去甚远。 另外Projekt的辉煌似乎真的已经统统留在了上个世纪了，虽然Projekt还在签新乐队，出新唱片，然而却都是些毫无新意的东西，不光是没有新意，连基本的水准都没有，实在令人质疑Sam的眼光和品位。辉煌之后的Projekt就只是后继无力了。