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Review: Lilac Queen – “Ouch”

Dozens mourned the end of prominent area band Bystander on Nov. 1. 

The next day many of those same people rejoiced as the band effectively reformed under a different name and signaled a slight change in direction. 

Hours after that, Lilac Queen dropped their debut single “Ouch” and introduced a new dimension to the local shoegaze revival which they continue to help lead. 

The track opens with an uncharacteristically driving, Phil Collins-style leading drum fill. That fill launches the listener from silence into a sweeping introductory chord progression underscored by a peppy drum pattern that remains powerful yet playful.

All that juxtaposes with raw screamed vocals which cry a series of tongue in cheek one liners like “I wonder what it feels like without me.”

It’s sad, sure, but right off the bat this track makes use of the often documented shortcut between pop and ambient shoegaze. These guys are the musicians who first hit the scene as the grungy emo rockers behind Bystander. But they could just as easily also be a splintered Taylor Swift alter ego hell bent on warping “We Are Never Getting Back Together” into an atmospheric tour-de-force. It’s an artful similarity. It adds delightful complexity. I mean this comparison as a compliment. 

From that first section, the song does, however, deviate slightly from that pop framework. The clean, high end heavy guitars on the verses explode on the choruses to become thick garage rock influenced shredding machines. Those tones swallow the bass and drums, wrestling even with those ever persistently screamed lyrics.

Seemingly committed to their subversion of typical all sad rock themes, however, Lilac Queen comes out of that first chorus in particular by prominently introducing harmonizing vocals on the second verse. 

The song floats onward, punctuated by the drums and guitar strums but not tethered by either of them. Vocals crescendo, then fade. The guitars continue to sweep in concentric circles through the stereo field.

Later in the track, we get a pleasant further pop influenced synth-style guitar riff that reintroduces a sense of melody and sonic place.

All that falls away, however, just as quickly as it came into the picture as Lilac Queen strips their sound down to a lone guitar part plucking reverberated, echoing riffs quietly behind a growing chorus of distant screams, groans, and snippets of lyrics.

We get one last big stadium worthy drum fill before slipping completely into this subspace that eventually concludes “Ouch.”

Then the sound fades out.

Those last bars sound like death, as soft and loving as they are pained and violent. Then there’s silence. 

It’s the perfect metaphor. Bystander died. Its members have been quiet on why exactly they called it quits on the old project, but we know that, one way or another, it did die. 

As quickly as they vanished that November night, though, these guys are back. They’re not happy, not sad, not poppy, not grungy, but somewhere in the middle, blazing a path for the Lowell shoegaze scene out of the decade of shoegaze revival and into something new.

~ Dakota Antelman