Label: The Flenser
The concept of creating music as self-care is hardly a new one, but sometimes, an album can strike you with just how powerful and important a concept that is. Such is the case with Cold Air, the new album from Drowse. Written during a spell of anxiety and depression, Cold Air is an album of interesting contradictions. At times, its hazy shoegaze is filled with warmth, and possesses a real power of emotional healing; and then at others, there is the feeling that something is desperately scratching at the walls, trying to get out with a life-threatening desperation. It makes Cold Air an intense listen, despite its often soothing sounds; and one that is filled with a unique sense of personality and intensity.
For large parts of the album, the expected elements of shoegaze or slowcore are present and correct: post-punk influenced basslines, shimmering, hazy guitars, and wistful vocals, all wrapped up in a delightfully warm production. A song like ‘Quickening’ feels, on the whole, much like you would expect a shoegaze song to sound and feel, albeit with a greater sense of presence than is usual for the genre. Elsewhere, the acoustic-led ‘Klonopin’ layers vocals and guitar lines to wonderful effect, before adding in some shimmering synth lines that, at first, pull the song in seemingly contradictory directions, yet ultimately combine to wonderful effect.
Throughout the album though, there is always the feeling that a sense of disquiet is not far away. The short interlude tracks, featuring haunting ambient and spoken word sections, add greatly to this feeling, as do many of the song titles, such as ‘Death Thought’ or ‘Klonopin’ (the name of a drug used to prevent and control seizures and panic attacks). And as the album goes on, those atmospheres that were previously so warming began to subtly shift in character, instead feeling more sinister – as if parts of the body and brain were becoming numb, viewing the world through a haze. It’s a deeply unsettling experience, and as close as I’ve heard to the feeling of scattered, racing, irrational thoughts that occur when in the depths of anxiety.
Yet despite how dark Cold Air can be, there is something addictive, and rewarding, about braving the album again and again; about putting yourself through these trials, and facing down the difficulties. The music is always laced through with a kind of beauty, no matter how dark it becomes, and by the time the loud, distorted guitars of final track ‘Shower’ have finished, giving way to haunting strings and acoustic guitar, it’s hard not to feel a sense of catharsis has been achieved.
Whilst Cold Air is an album largely rooted in shoegaze, the dissonant air and sense of emotional challenge means it will appeal to fans of many more styles. Rather than the typical shoegaze comparisons, it made me think of The Cure’s Disintegration, and the experimental work of Christian Fennesz, as well as The Flenser label-mates Have A Nice Life and Planning For Burial. Cold Air is an album of singular personality, full of darkness and light, taut with emotional and longing; it may not be an album for relaxing listening, but it was never intended to be. Instead, this is an album that communicates something vital, and is deeply moving.