As 2020 has fully taken off, it’s crazy to think that shoegaze has been around for over 30 years. The subgenre has taken many different forms – and many, many of the same – but it’s been home to a well of creativity at its best. Pia Fraus are an Estonian band who, like many of the style’s purveyors, straddle the line between shoegaze and dream pop. It’s a fine line that perhaps only serves to give the snootiest gazers a sense of authority. But nevertheless, Pia Fraus’ latest album Empty Parks is definitely a shoegaze album.
The album is very consistent stylistically. While it’s heavily a shoegaze album, there are lots of jazz chords throughout. These create a peaceful aura, making the perfect soundtrack to a drive down an empty road on a dewey spring morning. The album also takes plenty queues from folk and indie rock. Most of the songs are set to a mid-tempo pace like the folksy “Hidden Parks” or the zen “Sweet Sunday Snow”. Songs like “Love Sports” and “Paper Flower Projects”, however, are much faster paced. This mix helps prevent the album from becoming too sleepy, as something that you could describe as “jazzy shoegaze” could so easily become.
One thing that separates this from other shoegaze albums is the amount of transitional motifs. The band seamlessly adds these in on songs like “The New Water”, where motifs reappear and get translated into new ideas. There are also these flowery guitar leads all over this thing, like on “Sweet Sunday Snow”, that weave in and out of the vocal melodies. The rhythm guitars are generally pretty clean for a shoegaze album, but the synths provide a ton of gorgeous, dreamy texture.
The male-female vocal duo of Eve Komp and Rein Fuks is soothing. Rather than being drenched in reverb, their vocals are intertwined in constant harmony to achieve that same shrouded effect. At times they even bend harmonies as if they were using a whammy bar. “Mr. Land Freezer” is a great example of this, and the song also sees third vocalist Kristel Eplik add to the massive chorus harmonies. The band has a very strong knack for melody. As mentioned above, they do an excellent job of crossing vocal and guitar melodies.
The album does start to lose steam towards the end. I think switching up the vocals a bit could have helped. The octave and harmony vocals sound great, but it gets a bit predictable on the last few tracks. It would have been nice if the vocalists threw in some counter-melodies. They could have also traded off standalone singing duties on in a song or two. Also “Late Summer Night” is super repetitive lyrically.
The album as a whole is a pleasant listen. Pia Fraus keeps things pretty fresh for a shoegaze band, focusing on melody rather than their pedalboards. It’s very ambient but never boring. Empty Parks is a welcome addition to what has otherwise been a slow start to 2020.
Best Tracks: Love Sports, Mr. Freezer, Paper Flower Projects, Sweet Sunday Snow
Weakest Tracks: Late Summer Night, You’re Not in Love
FFO: Slowdive, DIIV, The Radio Dept., DTP’s Ghost
Overall Score: B+