Orange Yellow Red: A Rose Made of Galaxies
Saint Marie Records

Scarlet Youth: The Everchanging View
Saint Marie Records

At first glance, it appears that both of these recent album releases from Saint Marie Records would be classified as shoegaze. A more careful listen, however, reveals noticeable differences between them: whereas Orange Yellow Red's A Rose Made Of Galaxies is shoegaze in the classic sense, Scarlet Youth's The Everchanging View leans more towards New Wave-styled dreampop. And while the former's songs are rooted in guitar playing, the latter's accentuate synthesizers as much as, if not more than, six-strings. Differences aside, both albums are high-quality collections filled with enticing melodies and consistently strong performances.

Currently consisting of Jaani Peuhu, Markus Baltes, Kalle Pyyhtinen, Marko Soukka, and Riku Mattila (as listed at the group's Facebook page), the Finland-based Scarlet Youth drew inspiration from the music of acts such as Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine when it started making music in 2004. The Everchanging View, Scarlet Youth's follow-up to its 2010 debut album Goodbye Doesn't Mean I'm Gone, opens on a high note with “You and Me.” Wafting in on a warm breeze before a swarm of shoegaze guitars clears a path for a dreamy chorus, the tune makes for a gorgeous opener that suggests there's as much New Order in the band's DNA as Slowdive. In fact, both “You and Me” and “Coastlines” could easily pass for New Order songs had Bernard Sumner guested on vocals, and other songs on The Everchanging View suggest the group's influence in the songwriting style and the prominent role played by bass in the songs.

Not surprisingly, Scarlet Youth's dreampop sound is ultra-dense, a multi-layered mass of analog synthesizers, chiming guitars, pulsating bass, and ethereal vocals that at moments calls to mind The Cure (“Cool Kids,” “Home is Where Your Heart is”), OMD (“Warm Lucid Nights”), and ABC (“My Dream is Yours”) as much as New Order. But don't dismiss Scarlet Youth as a mere pastiche of influences: its latest forty-three-minute collection holds up perfectly well as a solid song-based outing on its own terms (see the affectingly melancholic reverie “Summertime Has Passed” and soaring “Someday I'll Be Fine Again” for proof), even if one can hear the echoes of others reverberating within the album's songs.

A Rose Made of Galaxies, the debut outing from Orange Yellow Red (bassist-vocalist Emma Hayward, guitarist-vocalist-keyboardist-drummer Philip John Mayor, and guitarist Ross King), impresses even more than The Everchanging View, as good as it is. The band itself came into being when a demo version of “All the Hopes” was selected by Invada Records (run by Portishead's Geoff Barrow) for inclusion on the label's 2008 compilation The Secret Garden Vol. 1. But as the song was the first one written by the band, the trio was taken by surprise and didn't feel ready to capitalize on the attention, especially when it only had a couple of finished songs on hand at the time. So instead the three headed back to the studio to, in Hayward's words, “create an album, packed with cool melodies [that] still somehow aches…like all the best pop records do.” Even a single listen to the eleven-song album (one a bonus) reveals why Invada was so immediately drawn to the group's sound.

Buoyed by a gorgeous lead vocal from Hayward, “Into Your Arms” works up a transcendent, guitar-heavy swoon that's pretty much irresistible, while “All the Hopes” makes good on the opener's promise with three blissful minutes. Such songs reveal that the album's strengths are rooted not just in its polished shoegaze-pop sound but in the songs' sparkling melodies. Changing things up, Mayor and Hayward share vocal duties on “The Sea,” with the former handling the verses and the bassist the choruses, while the multi-instrumentalist flies solo on the anthemic “Some Things Are.” Hayward's vocal turns prove to be particularly haunting, as evidenced by her contributions to “A Long Goodbye,” “Always Tomorrow,” and “Thunder,” and on the instrumental front, the group shows itself to be as adept at delivering high-volume euphoria (“The Last Song”) as chiming pop ballads. Pretty much everything on this superb album hits that ever-elusive sweet spot, and one finds oneself repeatedly captivated by Orange Yellow Red's ravishing set.

December 2013