Crate-Digging Quick Takes: Datahowler – The Crystal Gazers EP


(Velvet Blue Music, 2013)

Part of the fun of keeping an eye on record labels is following when they take a detour and release something that maybe they normally wouldn’t have. I’ve been a fan of Velvet Blue, run by Starflyer 59 and Joy Electric alum Jeff Cloud, for years, especially the early output by bands like The Lassie Foundation, LN, and Map. I dunno, something about hazy indie pop speaks to me sometimes – it did a lot more ten years ago, but what are you gonna do.

So in some ways, I guess then, Datahowler sticks to the VBM plan, in that they’re still occupying that navel-gazing insular and personal style that you’d come to expect from the West Coast label. But where they deviate is in aesthetics – Datahowler is actually a one-man band, Ross Edman, who, rather than gazing downward at effects pedals to wring the max amount of atmosphere from his songs, has his head buried in his laptop instead. And while you may be thinking, “Man, that cover makes it look like Datahowler’s a peer of Black Moth Super Rainbow!,” you’d be tragically wrong – neither Tobacco nor any of his fucked up friends are referenced, obliquely or otherwise, on The Crystal Gazers.

Edman opts for a liquidly laid-back atmosphere, particularly on the title track and album standout, wordlessly washing us in hues and textures. In fact most of the EP is wordless, a trait that allows the listener to remain in a dreamlike state throughout, without having to focus on the concrete, able to remain in a vivid in-between state. Actually, no track does this like “Weight of Dreams (Preface),” where the divide between sleep and wakefulness is blurred but starkly real. In fact, it’s this track that reminds me most of fellow head-downers LN, but whereas the latter band reached their zeniths with guitar palates, Datahowler get there with synthesizers and samplers.

The Crystal Gazers bridges the gaps nicely over its five tracks between shoegaze, synth pop, and a sort of colloquial ambient practiced by Giant Claw and Mickey Mickey Rourke. “Watchtowers” is reminiscent of early Games (later Ford and Lopatin) dance tunes, in that it’s not really a dance tune at all, but a beatscape for wallflowers: detached, aloof, wishing it was confrontational, but cursed with a tragic sense self-consciousness. It’s terminal geekiness at its finest, balled up and just waiting to be ignited into a ball of nerdtastic glory, taking all doubters with it. But it never will, because, you know, the whole wallflower thing. Datahowler’s smarter than that anyway.

Cop this if you can. And you should totally pillage Datahowler’s bandcamp page too, to see where he’s coming from. Slowdrifter’s a great starting point, but even the live entries – Live (recorded 1/15/11 at Club Dada in Dallas) and Modern Til Midnight (recorded live at the Ft. Worth Modern Museum of Art) – and the self-explanatory Weirdo Tape are worth a spin as well.

RIYL: Games, Teengirl Fantasy, Giant Claw


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