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Loop - The World in Your Eyes / Heaven’s End / Fade Out / A Gilded Eternity

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Artist: Loop

Album: The World in Your Eyes / Heaven’s End / Fade Out / A Gilded Eternity

Label: Reactor

Review date: Jan. 15, 2013

During the 1980s, Loop served up their psychedelia straight, without irony, making them among the first post-punk bands to go totally trippy. While psychedelic flourishes had never been fully banished from the New Wave (and heavy drugs most certainly hadn’t), a few cycles went by where you posed alert and edgy at all times. If Iggy was the godfather, his kids were cribbing the raw power, not the drawn-out buzz of Funhouse.

Then Black Flag grew their hair out and talked up the Grateful Dead (and Rollins rhapsodized about Funhouse in Spin). Overtly acidic rock started appearing all over the underground. Xerox-distorted paisleys became a new backdrop on gig flyers. At first, this was often tempered with knowing jokes, like how Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth cracked wise about Hendrix and Marilyn and Madonna and Manson as they worked sitar and wah-wah tones into their music.

But Loop, which formed in 1986 in London, didn’t wink like that. They wanted to blow minds, and blowout ears. While a space-riffing British band would inevitably owe something to Hawkwind and inter-regime Pink Floyd, the latent drone and hypnosis of punk-approved bands like Stooges, Suicide and Can figured larger in their sound. Loop drew from different parts of those artists’ styles than their immediate predecessors. They locked on to the repetition, the willingness to ignore choruses and bridges and stay on the same three-note figure for minute after minute, trudging through a slush of electric noise. Leader Robert Hampson’s voice figured in the sound, but it was behind everything else, his words mostly describing the nebulas and flames that spurt forth as the feedback wailed.

In this exhaustive expansion of the Loop catalog, Suicide and Can interpretations are added to their four albums, along with demos, experiments and John Peel sessions. These reissues nearly double the material available during the band’s run, which ended in 1991, at which point members gravitated toward less guitar-oriented projects. Loop was nothing if not guitar oriented. Had they hung on a little longer, they might have figured larger in that final push forward with the electric guitar, and ended up ranked with peers like My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized. But as blurry and dreamlike as those ’90s figureheads may be, Loop was blurrier and sleepier. This was deliberate. The demos here are clean compared to the official cuts, sometimes with far more detailed guitar leads. They also sound smaller. This was music for slowly nodding at the neck, and their best tracks cram as much atmosphere as possible around an obelisk of a beat.

When they were active, the head-nodding worked better as a live experience than on the albums they were releasing. I saw them in the backs of bars and in large theaters, and regardless of the venue, they could make it sound vast. The albums were something of a let down. Turns out, this was partly due to the recording. Not because they were lo-fi, but because they were working during the transition between analog and digital recording, and it was unclear how to get the sound they intended in the studio. "Black Sun" has a great lead, a crackling tremolo that rips the song in half every two measures. As an opener to Fade Out, it always sounded a bit dinky. The bass guiding the song was clean and forward, occupying a much more sober plane than the astral six-strings. Remastered, it’s underneath the guitars, pushing them along. The song finally subdivides like the live fractal of their performances.

For all the complaints about modern audio compression destroying nuance, Loop’s recordings sound a lot better under the influence of the stuff. These are not artists who were concerned with dynamic range. Songs start and end at the same gushing loudness. They’re supposed to numb and wear you out. Conversely, at nine CDs of music, this is a lot of Loop. They remain a band who’s jamming didn’t gain much when coaxed on to a 40-minute LP. They do better in shorter bursts or endless repeat. Of these four releases, World In Your Eyes works the best, because there’s no attempt at continuity. It started life in the ’80s as collection of their EPs, and here it’s expanded with later singles and wide-ranging covers (Godflesh, Nick Drake). The late track "Arc-Light" might be their defining moment, with cascading tom and chiseling power chords locking into a cycle that is positively robotic. When a bagpipe-like lead slips in, you realize the track is made of the same growls and whines as AC/DC, wrapped into the strict floor hits of emerging U.K. big beat. (This is made more explicit in a series of remixes.) For all the vacuum-tube heat, the band craved electronic precision.

These remasters show how the band prefigured the heavy psych scene of today, right down to striking a balance between krautrock with proto-metal. Frankly, it’s not like you couldn’t stumble across the sound with right gear, the right record collection and disinterest in hooks — and plenty have without name checking Loop. It would be stretching to call them godfathers. But if their name hasn’t come up much in the intervening years, it should now.

By Ben Donnelly

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