If you follow instrumental guitar in any capacity, you’d have to be trying to miss out on Yasmin Williams’ excellent LP Urban Driftwood this year. The young guitarist adapted a lap-style finger tap honed from hours of crushing metal solos in Guitar Hero, into an idiosyncratic approach that melds virtuosity with tender melodies. Her playing pulls from the folk and blues of Elizabeth Cotton, Algia Mae Hinton, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, joining those luminaries in her ability to stop a listener cold with stunning complexity and raw talent that’s equally balanced with a dedication to the depth of song’s hold. Incorporating rhythmic elements from footstomps and palm taps to kalimba, her works take in a voracious amount of influence that seems effortlessly melded into an album that resonates with the listener on an almost alchemical level. Anytime Urban Driftwood is on the speakers the world seems brighter, making it one of the year’s essential records. When I got a chance, I asked Yasmin to take a pick for the Hidden Gems series, and it’s the kind of answer that makes me jealous for a younger generation that grew up with so much access to unfiltered music, following YouTube rabbit holes for hours at a time. Check out a dive back into her shoegaze and dreampop past for an EP that seem to have been lost on the masses.
“This record choice may be surprising to those who know of my music,” notes Williams, “since it is not a guitar record, or even an instrumental record; however, it’s a record that has stayed with me for over a decade now and will most likely stay with me throughout my life. I was in high school when YouTube’s algorithm blessed my recommendations list with this breathtaking EP: Flaxen by Bethany Curve. I had been a fan of dream-pop, shoegaze, and ambient music before hearing this record, but I’d never heard anything quite like Flaxen before, or since. It combines all three of these genres while adding something incredibly novel. I remember this EP being one of the first records I’d ever listened to from start to finish in one sitting. Back then, and even now, it’s very rare for me to want to listen to an entire album without already having heard the songs and knowing that I like them. I’d much rather listen to singles or songs I already like repeatedly and work my way through an album, song by song, instead of listening to an album in one sitting. However, with Flaxen, I was stunned by the sonic landscape presented throughout the record and how each track flowed so seamlessly into the next, as if the endings of each track were written with the next track in mind. This record is certainly a hidden gem and I consider it to be one of the most interesting shoegaze/dream-pop albums I’ve ever listened to.”
“I’d listened to plenty of shoegaze music throughout high school prior to discovering Flaxen, from giants of the genre like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Chapterhouse, to lesser known but equally great groups like Moscow Olympics, Curve, Airiel, and countless others. I love all of these groups and think they are all unique, but Flaxen was the first time I’d ever heard a jazz tinged shoegaze/dream-pop record, and it blew my mind. I realized that the soundscape Flaxen presents was one that I was really searching for in shoegaze music. I’ll always be a fan of the roaring, distorted, reverb heavy guitars and hushed vocals of My Bloody Valentine and most other shoegaze bands, but it was amazingly refreshing to hear a new perspective on what shoegaze music could be. The vocals are seemingly dipped in honey, with vocalist Richard Millang’s voice soaring over sometimes heavily distorted, sometimes reverb heavy yet crystalline guitars, smooth, powerful basslines, and very jazzy drumming. There are two tracks on the record completely devoid of singing altogether and instead offer rich, dense, ambient soundscapes that help the album flow and put the listener in a meditative, yet curious state, since it’s not obvious what will happen after the ambient tracks end. The ebb and flow throughout each track sucks you in as a listener and makes you want to close your eyes and soak in each moment in a song, like when the time signature changes or the instrumentation changes or the guitars start to wail and the vocals swoop in and swallow your ears. I’ve listened to this EP countless times and it never grows old.”
“My only complaint with this EP,” laments Yasmin, “is that it isn’t longer and that after its release, Bethany Curve took over a decade to release any new music, much to the chagrin of my teenage and adult self. Although I don’t play music like what’s included in this record, the overall relaxing and transformative quality of the EP is relatively similar to my music I think. I’ve always admired bands and solo artists who take a unique, individualistic approach to their music, and Flaxen is a shining example of that in a genre where most bands aim to sound like the past instead of pushing the genre forward towards a better future.”
This is the kind of pick I love for Hidden Gems, because its one that I’m wholly unfamiliar with. For shoegaze heads this should slot nicely onto the listening list, and though it seems to be out of print physically these days, it can readily be found on any digital outlet. Meanwhile Yasmin’s record has already run through two pressings, and as I mentioned, should be on any essential list for 2021. It can (and should!) be found over at Spinster.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.