Some might baulk at the idea, but here it is, 'The Best of Chapterhouse', a one disc primer of the Reading act associated with the early 90s scenes tagged Shoegazing (though Shoegaze appears to be the term people go with now), Dream Pop (coined either by an American or Simon Reynolds), or, more cruelly, the Scene that Celebrates Itself. The latter was a music weekly take on the loose net of bands that generally stemmed from the Thames Valley at the time - mainly a social thing, and a tag that was applied to such bands as Blur, The Boo Radleys, The Catherine Wheel, Curve, Lush, Moose, Pale Saints, Revolver, Ride, Slowdive, Swervedriver, The Telescopes, and of course, our heroes of this review, Chapterhouse! Though it should be noted that many bands have cited Shoegaze/Shoegazing/Dream Pop and we have regular gigs themed around it, as well as bands like Sigur Ros, Jenniferever, Mogwai, Radio Dept, Sennen, Interpol, The Jonestown etc who nod to this movement. In wider terms, these bands can be seen as following in the slipstream of late 80s sonic pioneers like AR Kane, Cocteau Twins, Galaxie 500, Hugo Largo, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Loop, & My Bloody Valentine. From the poppier likes of Chapterhouse and Ride, to the more fractal likes of Bark Psychosis, Main and Seefeel, this was a "movement" that took in quite a wide region. & I always thought that a lot of the Shoegaze outfits weren't a million miles from later hip scenes like Slowcore, Math or Post Rock - play some of these records against material by Codeine, Low, or Slint and you'll get the idea...
'The Best of Chapterhouse' pretty much does what it says in the title, a 15 track compilation of material from their two albums Whirlpool (1991) and Blood Music (1993), with the odd b-side/ep track for good measure. Last year saw the reissue of an expanded version of Whirlpool, but this is an ideal mid-price primer and easier to find than 1996's compilation Rownderbout. Though some might have liked more of the remixes the band had, or the missing bonus track on the Whirlpool-reissue (live favourite 'Die Die Die'), and it's a bit odd that 'She's a Vision' is included, but not it's double a-side companion 'Don't Look Now'?
The compilation is non linear stuff, but includes all their singles bar 'DLN', from 'Freefall's 'Falling Down', to 'Sunburst's 'Something More' - the latter is in its early, superior incarnation, rather than the remodelled and slightly obvious (though rather cute) take on Whirlpool. 'Falling Down' is ostensibly a dance track, set around a groove almost as potent as 'Loaded' by Andrew Weatherall and Primal Scream - though with vague, lyrics and suitably stratospheric guitar, prior to the pulsing beats. It's clear why drummer Ashley Bates went onto 4AD dance outfit Cuba. Chapterhouse were quite poppy, taking influence from dance music at the time, as well as the more obvious shoegazing elements, and bothering to craft songs, rather than the more fractal drones and directions of their Reading associates Slowdive. The gorgeous 'Pearl' is probably their finest pop song moment, full of that 1990s 'When the Levee Breaks'-inflected drumbeats, jangly joyful guitars, and with a guest vocal from Slowdive's Rachel Goswell. Opener 'We Are the Beautiful' advances on these climes, while Blood Music-era singles 'Mesmerise' and 'She's a Vision' are even more overt, having more in common with someone like the Beloved than the Pale Saints. I guess the electronic/dance directions of Blood Music and the shift of fashion lost them their audience, hard to believe now that Chapterhouse played higher up a Reading bill than Nirvana, but that's the way it was in 1991!
I think a lot of the material from the Blood Music-era is probably more interesting, so while you get a compilation primarily of the earlier stuff, you get a good hint that the second LP was far from bad and that maybe, you should track it down? Saying that, The Best of Chapterhouse contains some early gems, from Whirlpool's gorgeous opener 'Breather' to that album's epic centrepiece 'Autosleeper.' As pleasant are the two b-sides from 'Pearl', 'Come Heaven' and 'In My Arms' - the former, in particular, is lovely stuff, and with the original of 'Something More', a textbook example of the classic shoegaze sound!!
This compilation may transport folk back to the post-Cold War/post-Ecstasy climes of the early 1990s, when All Gates seemed Open and music of all genre, past and present seemed to be colliding with each other. A fertile time for sure - a mid price compilation well worth picking up, especially for 4 earth pounds!