Get All Warm And Damp with Drowse on Cold Air
There, that economical intro aught to have scared off anyone foolish enough to come to this site looking for actual metal.
We’re taking a break from metal until the next post with the not quite aptly named Cold Air by Drowse. I say “not quite aptly named” because one of the very first things you’ll notice about this album is its warmth. (I started out listening in a sweatshirt and had to take my sweatshirt off by track 3.) If I had to
reduce pigeonhole distill this album to its purest essence by way of a glaringly contrived metaphor, I might liken it to a balmy summer breeze that occurs after the sun has set but well before all of the light has drained from the sky and blows through a seaside town in a place where the tide is close enough to be heard but not close enough to be smelt. Soft grass beneath your bare feet, a fine white Burgundy in your belly, fireflies blinking out secret messages in the limpid evening air, charred skulls vomiting Satan’s fire, the tingling anticipation of maybe meeting a lover later on; these are the things that Cold Air is made of.
Or actually it is made of acoustic guitars strummed by somnolent hands, shy percussion, cakey layers of synth bliss, and mumblecore voices. Of dreampop’s dreams and shoegaze’s -gaze and a bedroom-bound singer/songwriter’s penchant for skeletal composition. It is also said to be made of profound mental illness, including paranoia and life-threatening depression. If that is the case, I’m not hearing it. What I’m hearing instead is pining over an only semi-requited love, the irresistible urge to fall asleep, and quaaludes. But hey, one man’s darkness is another man’s A.utonamous S.ensory M.eridian R.esponse. Maybe you, human reader, will feel yourself sucked down into hope’s graveyard or just generally kind of bummed out by these gauzy lullabies, whereas they each, without variation, make me feel as if soft, nible hands are massaging a warm analgesic ointment into whichever lobe or cortex in my brain is supposed to be responsible for mitigating anxiety.
“Shower” ends the show with soothing, disintegrating electric guitars and alluring vocal coos which somehow conjure the concept of a happy death. “Small Sleep” begins it with blown-out-but-still-ear-friendly washes of starlit ambience. In between you’ll find the softly skittering drum programming and haywire-but-in-a-nice-way bells of “Death Thought”; the in-and-out-of-tune wobbling of “Put Me to Sleep” (not actually the sleepiest song on the album); and the the perfect night driving anthem of “Quickening” (not actually the quickest tempo on the album). You’ll be enveloped in damp earth, humidity and soft mold; you’ll experience introspection guided by the voices of old friends whose names you forget; you’ll meditate on neologisms like necrolepsy.
What you will not find is a single instance of anyone raising his or her voice.
The basic concept of Cold Air has been attempted and perhaps even well-executed by countless home-brewed projects in the past, and like all of those projects, it flirts with the disaster of growing stale. And while no one could be blamed for actually falling asleep by track 8 — with four tracks left to go — there isn’t a whole lot of filler to be found. Sole songwriter Kyle Bates avoids the usual traps of this style by differentiating the textures of each track and applying a whole gentle cosmos worth of harmonic and melodic layering to his otherwise emaciated acoustic ballads. There’s a lot of space for your ear to explore here; it’s just that you have to come into it willing to explore, as Mr. Bates is certainly not going to drag you around by the nose with any flashy instrumentation or technical performances.
In fine, Cold Air feels like the middle ground between Boduf Songs‘ weary minimalism and Planning for Burial‘s crumbling darkness, i.e., like the non-metal album The Flenser has been dying to release all along. If you’re looking for something quiet yet not too sad, trippy but not ayajuasca trippy, or just a palate cleanser between helpings of ear-masticating skronk, take some Drowse and see what happens. As I said, the end of the album suffers a bit from dynamic stagnation, but otherwise it’s as rewarding as a whole day spent camped out on your couch with a thirty pack of High Life and an endless supply of Law and Order: SVU streaming on the TV.
Cold Air will be released by The Flenser on March 9th. The LP is apparently already sold out but there should still be some digital copies left here hahahahahaha see what I did there?