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Spinnaker Record Club: Force and fury await on Deafheaven’s New Bermuda

Spinnaker Record Club is a weekly selection of music releases designed to introduce students to sounds they may not find elsewhere.

Graphic by Rachel Rector
Graphic by Rachel Rector

The last time I tried to listen to Deafheaven’s album Sunbather, I couldn’t get past the second track. Not because it was bad – in fact, the opposite is true. It simply overpowered me.

By mixing together elements of black metal, shoegaze and post rock, Deafheaven have assembled a unique, groundbreaking style known as “blackgaze” that has earned them equal amounts of praise and scorn. Fans credit them for opening up an insular, unpleasant genre to new considerations, and detractors despise them for the same reason. Much of this is due to their phenomenal visuals. In a genre that prides itself on satanic imagery and overuse of the color black, Sunbather’s cover featured the album’s title against a field of pink, meant to simulate staring toward the sun with closed eyes. The artwork for their latest LP, New Bermuda, is more quietly transgressive. It is an abstract painting of a face, white and floral against a roiling current of black and deep blue, bent down in grief.

One look at this image gives us a clear idea of New Bermuda’s sonic and thematic tone. Its darkness is existential, its concerns are worldly, and its most important facet – the words – is its most obscure. Vocalist George Clarke delivers lyrics in a snarling, unintelligible scream. Some will be put off by this, but others will wonder what he’s saying, and as a result, they will be confronted with the some of the most poetic songwriting in popular music. My favorite example comes from opening track “Brought to the Water”:

“Where has my passion gone? Has it been carried off by some lonely driver in a line of florescent light? Has it been blurred together in ribboned patterns in the night?”

If I came up to you on the street and read that to you, would you think was from a 19th century romantic verse or the opening line of a metal album?

Truthfully, there’s not much of a difference. Just as the composers and artists of the Romantic era used their work to rage against the crushing misery of the industrial revolution, so does Deafheaven respond to the despairs of today. This is expressed no better than on “Luna,” where, staring at “the mirage of water ascending from the asphalt,” from “the oven of my home,” Clarke laments being coaxed into the alluring dream of homeownership, now a nightmare in the oppressive suburban heat.

Over an unrelenting torrent of heavy guitar and drums, Clarke laments the mundane oppressions that threaten our spirits, crushing us into giving way to, as he says in promotional materials, “a new destination in life, a nebulous point of arrival, and an unknown future where things get swallowed up and dragged into darkness.” This uncertainty, the idea which New Bermuda represents, forms the album’s core concept, executed brilliantly and ominously. The future is bleak, but its bleakness comes from fear of the unknown. And Deafheaven provide what we need to make peace with it. – Doug Markowitz

Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles

Vintage pop music is the foundation of Scottish trio CHVRCHES’ super-modern sound, and their latest album, Every Open Eye, champions the underdog to a background of the smoothest synth pop being created today. Its sleekness makes it less rhythmic and more innocent, somewhat like Purity Ring’s similar transition on this year’s Stranger Than Earth. But unlike their indie pop contemporaries, CHVRCHES manages to keep up the pace throughout the entire album. They take us through a vortex of time and synth that sounds like a Hannah Montana or Madonna hit that never fully develops, maintaining a sense of innocence and mystique.

With Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES continue the coming of age story that began with 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe. The first few tracks announce the group’s newfound independence, and general knowledge of when to rise above. In “Leave a Trace,” the band separates itself from the negative nonsense in their lives and answer to the “tiny cracks of light underneath.” CHVRCHES want us to know it’s worth it to keep true to yourself in the worst moments. On “Make Them Gold,” they unite and empower the striving up-and-coming by shouting “we are made of our longest days, we are falling but not alone.”

The definitive second half of the album serves as a foundation for the opening six tracks. “High Enough For You To Climb Over” signals a shift in tone with a track similar to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” disco feel, when the band is torn between choosing those dragging them down and the new person they are because of it. Moments of K-pop influence also shine through, especially on the downright adorable “Empty Threat.”

If CHVRCHES lose us somewhere, they pick us back up with the heartfelt, heavenly, soul-searching track “Afterglow,” an optimistic tie back to the spunky, confident first half of the album. “Afterglow” feels like the heart-to-heart talks you had with your high school best friends at 2 a.m. while trespassing on private property. It gives us a sense of security, even knowing we’re in dangerous territory.

Every Open Eye showcases a CHVRCHES that has matured musically. It inverts itself halfway through the album just as their debut did, taking us on a journey from discovery to confusion and back to the familiarity of home. – Rachel Cazares

Other Notable Releases:

SEXWITCH – self-titled: Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan collaborates with English band Toy for a collection of wicked, mystical covers of world folk. Combines the woozy instrumental prowess of bands like Tinariwen and Jefferson Airplane with a tough, darkened stylishness straight out of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. A knockout, I couldn’t stop listening. – DM

(4.5 Sails) (SEXWITCH on Soundcloud)

Autre Ne Veut – Age of Transparency: avant-garde R&B singer Arthur Ashin returns for an album that’s darker, stranger, more experimental and possibly more engrossing than his last, 2013’s Anxiety. – DM

(4 Sails) (Autre Ne Veut on Soundcloud)

The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness: Lacks the je ne sais quoi that made 2013’s Whenever, If Ever such an incredible listen. Proof that one band can’t sustain a revival. – DM

(2.5 Sails) (The World Is on Bandcamp)

For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story, contact [email protected].

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