Bold statement: SIANspheric is/was awesome, need a larger web presence and everything else.
SIANspheric is one of those bands that continues to have a small but severe reverence close to 20 years in. Which is amazing considering the band was, at its peak, ‘obscure’ at best. If you are aware of SIANspheric, chances are you like or love SIANspheric. It’s a high percentage proposition to be certain.
Born of the sleepy bedroom community (terrible expression BTW) of Burlington, Ontario, the outfit arrived slightly late to the first wave ‘shoegaze’ thing but ultimately, kinda slayed 90 per cent plus of the outfits in that scene. They specialized in a moody nuance that was both bleak and beautiful and while their cues were obvious given the era, they were one of the few North American shoegaze bands to break. Relatively speaking in terms of style and stature.
SIANspheric sits in a bit of black hole digitally in so far as they emerged just before the Internet became “The Internet!!” As a result, there isn’t a ton of content about SIANspheric online in spite of the fact they toured Canada multiple times, had CDs that were popular in certain circles and were a pseudo-flagship band of one of Canada’s top indie labels of the 1990s, Sonic Unyon.
Case in point: you Google them in 2013 and early on, you’re directly to such binary afterthoughts as their order page at Indigo.com. Related: lame shipping terms!
The first two SIANspheric albums (1995’s Sominum and 1997’s There’s Always Someplace You’d Rather Be) are (really) fantastic and everything else in their discography is good to very good/great. The music is nice and watery, and seemingly effortless. While the band ultimately got a bit more dubby in later releases, part of the charm of Sominum especially is breaks in tunes like “Watch Me Fall”. The band kinda sorta abandons the shoegaze/space rock/dream pop thing for a stretch and more or less, reverts to a relatable suburban indie band. In the process, they momentarily sound like any outfit on the Squirtgun Records roster. Then, they fog over on the next track and go back to doing it better than Slowdive et all.
For a handful of 30-somethings in the GTA, the effect is powerfully carnal. It’s a weird balance of sounding completely familiar and comfortable on the one hand and totally austere and distant on the other. And this was a band you could catch with some regularly on small stages. A complete anomaly of the era.
There isn’t a strong narrative to this feature since it’s largely an exercise in giving SIANspheric a bit of an SEO jolt. Accordingly, here is a collection of three additional observations about SIANspheric.
Feel free to read out-of-order as it won’t matter to the non-existent arc.
1. I ‘m going to suggest than Tristan Psionic and SIANspheric were the two Canadian indie bands of the 1990s most often mistaken for each other, purely based on their name, pedigree and geography. As awesome as they were/are, SIANspheric’s branding was a bit troubling. Sianspheric, SIANspheric, SIAN spheric, Tristan Psionic… through no fault of their own (aside from the fact they named the band), the name seemed to throw some people in terms of the correct spelling and proper capitalization. That being said, there were other Canadian bands of the era (namely, Treble charger/treble charger and Rusty/rusty) who seemed to inspire like-minded confusion vis a vis capitalization and whatnot. In summary, I guarantee I’m the only living person in 2013 who is still giving these matters any thought whatsoever.
2. In hindsight, it is notable that there really weren’t any truuuuuuuue North American-born “superstars” of the original shoegaze movement. That’s to say, no North American bands achieved the widespread notoriety of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Curve, Catherine Wheel et all. One could argue that outfits like Galaxie 500 and the Smashing Pumpkins took major cues from these fellas and gals. But seriously, it’s not the same thing at all. DC-based weirdos Lilys were probably the highest tally on the North American/popular/shoegaze-y Venn diagram, especially whilst in the throws of their foggy 1994’s “mind eff” Eccsame the Photon Band. Even still, the band quickly packed up the phaser and went on a heavy 1960s power pop riff as the late decade fizzled out.
3. The shows SIANspheric did with Mystery Machine about a year ago are potentially on my Top 10 concert misses list. Twin underappreciated greatness.
For more information on SIANspheric, visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SIANspheric
Aside: Getting back to this “North Americans don’t/can’t shoegaze” notion, could this be 80 per cent a cultural thing and 20 per cent a marketing thing? Here is the breakdown…
80 per cent cultural – To be a shoegaze band by perception, you need to be withdrawn in a way that is specific to the UK: A cornerstone of the shoegaze persona is shyness. And we’re not talking about your standard, garden-variety shyness here. This is next level. Clinical. Dudes like Kevin Shields and the younger version of Neil Halstead seemed completely withdrawn in a way that was entirely foreign to these eyes: vastly destroyed emotionally but also sarcastically hilarious with great hair and cool pants/shoes. It’s more perception than anything as there appeared to be something inherently European (and by European, I mean British or Irish in these instances) in the way these people stood on stage, spoke in interviews and composed their music. Their personalities were entirely oblique (and essentially, glossed over) and their music was awesome in the way in seemed four, five or six degrees removed from anything that resembled “presentation” in the traditional sense. I suppose that was the appeal. Stateside, Sonic Youth could loop their effects pedals ad naseum, pierce ear drums and through it all, there’d still be a carnal sense of familiarity within the chaos since you knew Thurston Moore grew up in Connecticut and chances are, his cultural touchstones were probably not disimmilar to yours. This goes ten-fold for SIANspheric (for me, anyway) since they were literally a short drive away and yet were creating this powerful, impactful music that certainly didn’t sound like the Burlington I knew (not that I knew it at all beyond signs off the QEW and a single visit to Martin Streek‘s club night on Plains Road East). Again, to reiterate my early statement, SIANspheric are probably the one band I have ever listened to that (A) sounded completely familiar and comfortable on the one hand and (B) totally austere and distant on the other. They broke through the exoticism that is essentially required to “shoegaze” proper and ended up on an island (a noisy, ponderous island) in the process. Good job!
20 per cent marketing – All shoegaze album artwork and liner notes must be abstract and hard to interpret/read: A shoegaze album requires blurry artwork. No exceptions! The 4AD label was the touchstone for this approach as everything they ever put out appeared 25 per cent more “arty” than it was because of their dramatic cover art aesthetic. Case in point: I’d argue that the Breeders would be remembered completely differently if the album art on Pod and Last Splash was more (ahem) provincial to where the ladies and that drummer came from (yes, Wiggs was British.. shut up). Kim Deal is beyond awesome but at the end of the day, she is effectively a gregarious “salt of the earth” type from Dayton who just happens to have a compellingly strange sense of rhythm. Yeah, bit of a cheapshot at Dayton but essentially true. Also, it’s a fine line between “arty”/cool and “arty”/garbage when it comes to album art. Ergo, while the artwork on Sominum is not bad per se given the era, it kinda of looks like software packaging moreso than music in retrospect.