Alabama-based duo Quality Strangers lie somewhere at the intersection of shoegaze and ambient, setting occasional low-slung folk ideas adrift in a sea of warbling effects. This combination of electronic atmospherics and practiced songwriting is one that has proven successful for countless bands, but the blueprint for Daze skews louder and messier than many of its compatriots. From the bursts of overblown noise on the introductory first track, “In”, and onward, Quality Strangers’ seem to foreground a drive for the grandiose, the scenic, and to mixed results.
“Solstice” is perhaps the perfect example of this reliance on formula. The electronic drums that patter their way through the track sound all too familiar, and the loose, arpeggiated piano tones that twirl around the upper register sound like syrupy remnants of ambient music of the past. That said, the breathy, muddled, slightly off-key feedback tones are an interesting touch that unfortunately remain background material. Similarly, the acoustic rounds of the too-brief “Ankh” are tried and true material, and the tinkling bells add to the affect, but the piano that twirls its way into the mix brings things to a fade where a cathartic moment should be.
When the duo add vocals, as on the sort-of title track “Dazed”, the atmosphere is left significantly behind. The acoustic guitar and watery piano of that track don’t have the same ambient punch that the rest of the album strives for. Adding some of the smoky synth tones and rattling percussion of “Tetris” (the album’s best track by a mile) would do the otherwise plain song some good.
There are serious steps to both the traditional and the ambient on Daze, and it seems as if the duo is uncertain which way their music is leading them. On the few moments, though, where the two halves merge (as on the scattered, haunting second half of “While”), they come up with something seriously interesting. When they choose one or the other, they come up a bit empty, a bit listless.
Essential Tracks: “Tetris”, “While”