Our Lost Albums series is one of the features that continuously gets overshadowed by the giant-sized cloud that is new music. So much music, so little time.
While the last three months of new music has seen somewhat of a downturn (to us, anyway), it’s been a good time to dig through the archives and reacquaint with sounds of the past.
And this week, it’s Southpacific’s turn to be placed under the microscope.
Also known as “SoPac” the Ottawa three-piece, featuring guitarist Joachim Toelke, percussionist Graeme Fleming, and bassist Phil Stewart-Bowes, went beyond the dark frontiers of shoegaze, scrambling the signal by combing dead-eyed space-rock, core-shuddering drone and jangly psychedelia to produce thick blankets of glorious noise.
While others in this space, most notably second wave guitar-orientated shoegaze acts such as Highspire and Bethany Curve, continued to add new embellishments to the foundations laid by genre forefathers, My Bloody Valentine, Southpacific found other ways to reach the summit. Whilst striking a similar emotional intensity, Southpacific were more absorbed in the world of kranky and the experimental post-rock patchwork birthed out of Chicago.
Having self-released the mini album, 33, via Turnbuckle Records in 1998, the band really came into their own two years later with their first and only full-length release, Constance.
Nestled in the milieu of drone, reverb and distortion, with Constance, Southpacific unveiled lush walls of sound. Hazy yet immediate to the ear, Constance is a shadowy representation of all the leading sounds from the decade it followed. Soundscapes for the aloof, Southpacific had that air of being your band and your band only.
With heady drones and a protracted shoegaze blur, Blue Lotus sees Southpacific locked in from the first note. While The Bowery Electric captured these elements throughout their wonderful three-album journey (Analouge 9 being a clear homage to the band), Southpacific really hone in on these facets and enhance the aesthetic to something that reaches beyond.
Parallel Lines continues the momentum. With a nagging bass line and nimble percussion, like the sharp reflection of a flashing blade, Parallel Lines contains the kind of bowel-juddering reverb that triggers motion sickness.
Southpacific take it down a notch with E10 @ 182 and later during Stay Ahead, Far Behind. Laced with dub-inflections that pass off a motorik vibe, these two numbers are seemingly inspired by U.K. legends, Seefeel.
While the band were regarded as “unmapped”, it’s not hard to see why. Drawing together as many influences as possible, Alamo may just be Constance’s most striking moment. Otherworldly in tone and range, this is reach-for-the-sky splendour perfectly executed to tape.
And the gleaning continues on Round (Forget What You Feel) – a direct shoegaze-inspired snarling beast. Within the fissures Southpacfic find the balance between tenderness and aggression in something that My Bloody Valentine could have work-shopped during the Loveless recording sessions.
Then there’s Built to Last – the perfect matrimony between dream-pop and shoegaze. One of the only tracks containing vocals, Built to Last is a nice bridge and whilst perhaps surprising at the first time of listening, a track like this is far too good to omit from any record.
On Automata, it’s evident that Southpacific are truly immersed in their own world. Whilst not the highlight of Constance, in many ways it defines Southpacific. Here we find the band drawing all of their ideas together and bottling it up in one short serving.
Following the fractured Instrumental, Telegraph Hill builds majestically, almost buckling under its own weight of sound. Unlike your formulaic post-rock trope, here Southpacific get deep into the groove; so much so that it could well be defined as krautrock, once again showcasing band’s “unmapped” leanings.
The only thing that doesn’t make sense with Constance is the reception it received upon release. Met with a series of lukewarm reviews, Constance didn’t gain anywhere near the plaudits it deserved. While others in this space received similar downcast treatment (remember those Souvlaki reviews?), it must be said that artists of this ilk during this time were kicking against the trends: namely of pop and nu metal. They say timing is everything and perhaps that was Southpacific’s Achilles-heel.
However there’s other aspects with time and Constance has certainly stood the test of it. 22 years on, and Constance holds up in sound, production and aesthetic. After disbanding following the album’s release, the band did return in 2020 with the digital single release of Depths. Since, there have been no further indications that new music is on the horizon, with Fleming and Stewart-Bowes currently residing based in Toronto, while Toelke continues to be based in Europe where he has lived since 2003.
Whether or not new Southpacific music will see the light of day, the beauty of Constance still lingers. It’s a beauty few bands have captured since, and with the benefit of time, it’s evident that Southpacific are a vital chapter in the story of experimental music since the turn of the century.