The recent resurgence of Slumberland Records—both as an influence and an actual label—has been a strange one. During Slumberland’s ’90s heyday, none of its bands broke through to the mainstream. In fact, the fey, shoegazing, often Anglophilic sound of its roster barely resonated with the indie underground back then. That changed when revivalists like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart helped resurrect Slumberland—but it’s been just as interesting to see old Slumberland bands shake off their, well, slumber and attempt comebacks. Especially Lorelei. The Washington, D.C. outfit was part of Slumberland’s first wave in the early ’90s, although it was never the label’s most popular representative. Even then, the band drew as much from atmospheric ’80s post-punk—mostly of the 4AD variety—than it did shoegaze swirl or twee jangle.
It’s a fine distinction, but that twist has lent a surprising freshness to Enterprising Sidewalks, Lorelei’s first album since 1995. The disc opens with “Hammer Meets Tongs,” and its jarring, icy chords—not to mention its deadpan harmonies—signal a return to form. At the same time, it sounds almost alienating, an anachronism within an anachronism. Which only makes it more thrilling when the album stumbles across pockets of drifting timelessness, like the pillowy “Dismissal Conversation.” With a faint, bossa-nova pulse that bears shades of Stereolab, the track is sculpted out of space and ice, either a ghost of memory or a vision of the future. And on “Three Interlocking Screens,” smears of guitar ambience and chiming, lonely vocals evoke 154-era Wire—that is, as glimpsed through a downpour. It’s post-punk, only with the angles blunted and the edges blurred. As a whole, the album puts the Slumberland sound into a new context, even as it brings it full-circle; by wallowing on beauty, dislocation, dreaminess, melancholy, and flashes of aggression, it’s a reminder of why Lorelei snubbed indie rock’s slacker ethic of the ’90s—and why the band’s frigid lushness is just as out of place, and just as fresh, today. As comebacks go, Enterprising Sidewalks is a modest one. Then again, on Lorelei terms, that’s a raging, fist-pumping success.