It’s possible that a New York City guitar-driven quartet which started out at the turn of the century in the same neighborhood as Interpol, opened for The Strokes, recorded with sonic scenesters Dave Fridmann and John Leckie, signed a major-label contract after issuing a fine debut on a boutique hipster label and knowingly borrowed an aesthetic that leaps back over Oasis and Radiohead, as did the similar-sounding but superior Swervedriver, into the precarious arms of Echo, Stone Roses and Mancunian brooding, would not have to be farcically trendy, insubstantial and an easy target.
On its first three albums, Longwave sought and found three different tonal and harmonic paths. The original, and strongest, incarnation of this talented band featured singer/guitarist Steve Schlitz, guitarist Shannon Ferguson, bassist Dave Marchese and drummer Mike James. “Brighter Than Time,” on the self-produced Endsongs, is a resounding presentation of acoustic, serene hopefulness. No tainted associations here, no appeasement of other bands or rockcrit cults. On The Strangest Things, their large- scale coming-out party, what was at times a lamentable palaver of ambitious alliances with influences became original, efficient, dense songs, executed with grit and sheen. The guitar interplay is fiercer, one lead seeking scrap-iron heaviness, the other finely-wrought expressions of solemn stillness. Some of the propulsion and jangly jolts derives from the considerable production talents of Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips); the distortions disturb but never shock; the balance between the instruments is perfection on earth. With the great discordant rocker “All Sewn Up” a brilliant exception, the polished surfaces and subsequent lack of hurdy gurdy rawness is more of a problem on the extended songs — a little blood and dirt and humor might have catapulted this album into greatness.
Losing its great rhythm section and switching to Leckie (Felt, XTC, The Fall) led Longwave to a different, lustrous sound on There’s a Fire. The guitar playing is more bombastic and churning, the new bass/drums duo of Christian Bongers and Nic Brown is refreshingly vibrant. “Heart Attack” is great theater, the title track is the band’s finest song and “Underworld” features sharp twists and turns. These songs are buoyant and polished, but the lyrics range from bewildering to lame and an afternoon of Schlitz’s voice gets tiresome. The whole album could use a little less balance and certitude: it’s too comfortable.
Ignore the EPs, since the majority of the songs appear on the full-lengths.