Shoegaze Supergroup Last Ice Take Us to a Cold New World on Self-Titled Debut
Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, “The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean . . . Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return.” From start to finish, Last Ice feels like an auditory representation of that sentiment.
The best shoegaze songs feel otherworldly. Bands like Coctaeu Twins or Slowdive manage to transport us to a place on the edge of our collective imagination. Just as a good sci-fi or fantasy novel pushes the bounds of reality, the genre of shoegaze concocts a vivid alternate reality. At times, it feels like witchcraft. And Last Ice, the product of long-distance collaboration during the pandemic, gives shoegaze fans just such a verisimilitude on their self-titled debut.
Last Ice features all members of the bands We Are Parasols and The Bloody Knives. Together, the two seem to attempt to grasp the outer limits of our galaxy through the songs on their eponymous album. Soaring synth pads, bit-crushed drum loops, and reverb-drenched guitars provide the backdrop for this exploration. Opener “Summon” serves almost like a palette-cleanser, preparing the listener’s mind for what lies ahead. Synth pads swell and fade and drums rumble in and out of focus. Last Ice let us know that this is going to be a journey. As “Summon” ultimately fades into “Rising,” a hypnotic drum beat, booming subsynths, and distant, canyon-esque vocals greet the listener. Already, the album is proving to be one that is almost visual. As I listened in my headphones, I almost imagined the band rehearsing on the craters of the moon or the rings of Saturn.
Moving ahead, “Chains” sounds like a mixture of My Bloody Valentine and Nine Inch Nails. It’s a dark, dissonant tune perfect for late night drives down scenic country highways. This album’s approach to vocal mixing is intriguing. Though the vocals are usually buried under layers of effects, the melodies cut through the songs like a knife. Jutting out of the atmospheric, landscape-ish instrumental mixes, the melodies almost sound like beacons or satellites relaying a message back to us on Earth. The album is also sequenced beautifully. As “Prayer” ends and “Divides” begins, there is no break in continuity. These songs sound as though they were made for each other. And, as any songwriter could tell you, that is a difficult feat to pull off.
The song “Disease” is perhaps my favorite track on the record. It bears the most resemblance to synth-pop, and features a gorgeous melody that will turn your gaze to the night sky. The penultimate track, “Submit,” features a bassline reminiscent of Colin Greenwood’s work on Kid A. There’s a synth leads that moves in and out of focus, and it’s almost reminiscent of a classical melody from some long-forgotten symphony. The final song, “End,” is another industrial influenced instrumental, with pounding digital toms and a looming bass-synth line.
Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, “The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean . . . Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return.” From start to finish, Last Ice feels like an auditory representation of that sentiment. Atmospheric backdrops are dissected by solipsistic melodies, searching for a home on distant worlds. We Are Parasols and The Bloody Knives have created a near-perfect shoegaze records. Maybe someone, somewhere will answer their call.
Below is LSPR’s exclusive interview with Last Ice:
What was the recording and collaboration process like between both bands for this album?
Preston – There was a record that we had abandoned that the Parasols wanted to work on, and then I thought, “Maybe we should remix some of y’alls tracks too!” Then when I had things as I wanted them I sent them over to Jeremy to do the final mixing and mastering touches.
Jeremy – Yeah, that pretty much covers it. We took their tracks and did our thing while Preston and Jake were reshaping ours. It wasn’t really a standard kind of collaboration. We didn’t get into sending things back and forth or bouncing ideas off each other until I was mixing. I’d do a pass and send it to Preston and he’d send back some notes. But even that went really smoothly. Everything just sort of fell into place naturally. I think there was more discussion and debate over the band name than there was about the actual music. I wanted “The Last Ice” but Jake insisted it just be “Last Ice.” Such difficult compromise!
Did you have a specific vision in mind when you made this record? It feels very visual, almost like the soundtrack to a documentary about outer space or something!
Preston – Totally hear the comparison you are making, and I think overall this project has a nice spacey ambience about it. There was no specific vision for me, aside from wanting to make all the tracks as short and concise as I possibly could, and as far away from the originals as possible. And I thought the contrast between mine and Deb’s voices had a cool interplay so wanted to do some vocal tradeoffs in the songs.
Jeremy – I think over in We Are Parasols world we had some concepts and ideas we were trying to explore. It seemed to us that the songs we’d chosen to reshape from the abandoned Bloody Knives record had a fair amount of mystical and otherworldly themes going on. I’m not sure if that was their original intention, we didn’t discuss it directly, but we really wanted to push those aspects in the new versions, most obviously with the opening tracks, “Summons” and “Rising”. Since the songs that Preston and Jake were reworking were from our No Center Line EP, which happens to be a concept record about a witch crossing back and forth between life and death, we thought of the Last Ice record almost an unofficial sequel. Deb and I definitely talked about some vague idea of a “plot” while putting together the final track order. We always do.
Deb – I just want to add that most of the We Are Parasols projects tend to receive a similar comment from listeners: this sounds like a soundtrack. We do seem to have a knack for making music that would probably fit perfectly on a horror, sci-fi or fantasy movie soundtrack. Of course, we certainly never go into our projects with that intention (except for No Center Line and Inertia, both conceptual projects, so they are a kind of soundtracks). I guess we like big, lush, cinematic kind of music!
Were there any effects pedals or plug-ins that you relied on while making this record? No worries if you don’t want to reveal your secrets!
Preston – On my side this was extremely effects light, I spent a lot of time sampling and resampling things more than anything else. My UA Manley compressor and Lexicon 224 reverb are definitely all over this album.
Jeremy – Well, Deb played real bass guitar, as opposed to synth bass, for the first time in a long time! That’s a very underused secret weapon of ours. Other than that the only thing I can think of is that this was only the second or third project that I mixed entirely in Reason. I gave up on Pro Tools a few years ago once VSTs were compatible with Reason and I think it’s made everything I’ve done since then sound better. Mostly just because I have way more fun working in Reason. It feels musical while working in Pro Tools feels like doing math homework or making spreadsheets to me now.
Do each of you have a favorite song on this record?
Preston – I like the whole record but if I had to pick one my favorite song is probably “Fire”, with “Curse” as a close second.
Deb – “End”
Alec – “Curse”
Jeremy – That’s tough. I like them each for different reasons but I guess if I’m honest my favorites are the two singles, “Chains” first and then “Prayer” as a close second. “Chains” because I think it sounds the most like how I would imagine our two bands smashed together might sound, and “Prayer” because I think it sounds very little like either of our bands, like something entirely unexpected and new. Preston’s bass part of “Prayer” still amazes me and Deb’s bass lead on “Chains” is one of my favorite hooks on the record. I guess it’s all about the bass.
Jake – For me it’s a tie between “Prayer” and “End.”
Do you intend to continue this collaboration? What’s next for y’all?
Preston – I don’t see why not, it was fun and the reaction has been very positive so far. Haven’t really gotten that far mentally though, so hopefully there is enough here for people to dig into for a while!
Jeremy – We definitely don’t have any concrete plans but I’m open. I think if we continue I’d like to figure out how to explore with more direct collaboration, like writing songs together or sending new ideas back and forth, building something from scratch rather than reworking each other’s existing material like we did the first time. I’m not sure what that process would look like but finding new ways to work is a challenge I really enjoy. I have a few other records to finish first though, before I can think about it too much.
Deb – I’m also open to collaborating again. Always. Preston and Jake are two wonderful, kind, and talented people, so the thought of collaborating again sounds pretty appealing to me. I am sure that venturing into a project completely from scratch would be interesting—I’d be curious to see what we all would come up with!