With a band name that sounds like the verbal description of a Ride album cover, Los Angeles trio Soft Blue Shimmer burst onto the dream pop scene in the late-2010s resembling the glorious caricature of a ‘90s underground rock act. The band’s debut EP, Nothing Happens Here, was a heavy hitting but playful slice of starry-eyed rock that embraced the tropes of the West Coast’s burgeoning shoegaze revival, somehow still managing to eschew feeling formulaic. On Soft Blue Shimmer’s debut album, Heaven Inches Away, the band crank up the fuzz, becoming less coltish and more stoic. Where their early work felt like a forgotten cut from the soundtrack to 10 Things I Hate About You, their latest plays more like a diegetic sound drifting in the background of a Greg Araki-directed scene. Its red velvet sonic palette makes it one of the most exciting dream pop debuts in recent memory.
On Heaven Inches Away, Soft Blue Shimmer enlisted the production expertise of Loveland, Colorado-based producer and Gleemer front person Corey Coffman. His distinctive knack for blending crispy, hyper-modernist fidelity and late-20th century aesthetics has breathed new life into albums from artists including waveform*, Milly, and Sprawwl. By letting someone with a penchant for retro gloominess helm their record, Soft Blue Shimmer suddenly feels more like a band that could open for Swervedriver and less like a band that should headline a well curated backyard show. Coffman’s thick, jagged tones beam through on tracks like the galloping earworm “Emerald Bells” and the murky slowcore closing track “Adore The Distance.” On the latter, the coupling of catchily baffling riffing and a pounding-but-simple rhythm section find the band and their producer masterfully merging the best of their collective creative tendencies.
Heaven Inches Away might sound like looking into the mysterious depths of a swamp, but with the band’s up-tempo arrangements and soaring melodies, listening to the record often evokes running up the shore of a Pacific beach on a cool sunny day. With its scampering groove, “Chihiro” harkens lackadaisical, wistful artists on labels like C86 or Slumberland, and “Hold You in the Warm” repurposes an emo riff to frame a folk-indebted duet. While you can practically see the compressors in Coffman’s studio nearing the red while listening to its bashed drums carry the track, a pretty, descending chorus keeps the song ethereal instead of sludgy. Similarly, lead single “Cherry-Cola Abyss” finds the band courting dissonance but using a poppy saunter to keep things airy. Even as Soft Blue Shimmer’s disposition grows more mature and severe, much like its predecessor, Heaven Inches Away feels like the work of a group of musicians having fun.
20-plus years into shoegaze’s ongoing run as one of rock music’s most competitive niches, Soft Blue Shimmer use their precise musicianship and creative arrangements to stand out from their peers. While Heaven Inches Away may be an unexpectedly inky pivot for the band, it also displays commendable growth that is impressive from a group less than two years into putting out music. In another universe or a brighter not-so-distant future, it’s not hard to imagine Soft Blue Shimmer sharing stages with their forebears. They already hold up when played alongside them. – Post Trash