Glenn Donaldson and Jem Fanvu’s divine duo are back

Enter the shimmering, Vacant Gardens

Back in the mists of lockdown time, Vacant Gardens emerged like heartworn souls… Vacant Gardens is an interstellar recording project that combines celestial, shimmering guitar courtesy of Reds Pinks and Purples’ Glenn Donaldson, on the verge of breaking like a massive, emotive wave and an ethereal vocal style from Jem Fanvu recalling Hope Sandoval or Liz Fraser that sails in its wake. Simply put, this is some of biggest, heart-tugging guitar music you’ll hear in recent times.


Sold out and now on a limited repress, Under The Bloom is the duo’s debut album. Donaldson of course is already familiar with us here in Monorail after his Uncommon Weather album made our April album of the month slot. Vacant Gardens bristles with a more fragile Galaxie 500 energy, about half the BPM of most Reds tracks, and in Jem Fanvu there’s an angellic vocal at the helm. It’s waves upon waves of guitar swelling on the twilit side of the shoegaze street, but with a straight forward emotive quality that dews the eyes. Under The Bloom, the band’s debut album, also has little flashes of Yo La Tengo simplicity and a Bardo Pondian tendency to crest the music upwards and upwards to some promised crescendo rendered either with distortion or a whirling vocal harmony.

Fanvu’s reverb and echo-smeared vocal is just obscured enough to blur into the haze of Donaldson’s guitar walls, not unlike the Fraser / Raymonde dynamic of Cocteau Twins but when her vocal is pushed up in the mix it’s To. Die. For. On Sunlight By The Grass it’s almost too much, her voice nestling in the upper register to utterly gorgeous effect. Whenever the tidal string manipulations are in full throw there’s definitley a Slowdive ecstasy that glistens through the chords, which is never a bad thing. A real treat and a real top tip.

Following the rapid sell out of their debut, Under The Bloom, Obscene is a continuation and development of the group’s sound: a frayed tapestry of Slowdiving, Flying Saucer Attack guitar noise wall married with an angelic vocal from Fanvu that glitters in counterpoint to the stringed distortion like Hope Sandoval or, in the way it shines bright in the fog, like Jonsi’s surfing the surging waves of emotion in early Sigur Ros. Originally released in February on digital formats, Obscene gets a vinyl press and is sounding massive. Vacant Gardens’ music suggests oceanic feelings, a hazy intergalactic consicousness that burbles beneath the surface of everything while also touching the visceral points in the human heart that makes groups like Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo so timeless.

On Obscene you can even hear little flickers of Sandy Denny if she was backing Bardo Pond but at the same time there’s a clarity to the recording that moves on slightly from Under The Bloom. Some of the tracks here are just majestic, regal in the way they unfurl like billowing clouds of crimson across a new sunrise. As Horses stamps on the Big Muffs to ever-escalating breaking point, with the lagging, echoing vocal threatened to be crushed by the sheer emotional heft.

This is truly special music.


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