Cloakroom is a 3-piece shoegaze outfit from Indiana who are currently signed to Relapse Records, a label which has played host to quite a handful of bands similar to them, perhaps most notably Nothing. The past couple of years have been a particularly good time to be a shoegaze act, with stalwarts of the genre like Slowdive and Swervedriver emerging from retirement for new releases, on top of newer acts like the aforementioned Nothing and even the most recent Hundredth release. The genre seems to have gotten a new surge of popularity, and with Cloakroom’s new album Time Well, the group is definitely looking to establish themselves as new big players in the scene.
While the Nothing comparisons are the most obvious to make (given that the two are labelmates and all), Cloakroom definitely display some influences from both Windhand and Torche as well. The album’s first two tracks, “Gone But Not Entirely” and “Big World”, present a good idea of what’s to follow. The band’s key creative tick is how songs tend to switch back and forth between shoegaze’s usual dreamy shimmering waves of sound and some very gritty low-end overdriven guitar passages. The songwriting ability to transition between the two works pretty well, especially when paired with atonal chord structures that contrast the beautiful soundscapes in a really compelling matter. Such transitions really pack a punch whenever they come up, with a really good example of this being the track “Hymnal”, where the clean chords echo out in a sustained manner instead of being strummed repeatedly, and when the sludgy guitars enter and leave, they’re additionally marked by these small pockets of guitar feedback.
“52 Hz Whale” is primarily written and performed in a pretty slow ¾ time signature where the overdriven guitars are streamlined to a more straightforward rhythm/melodic structure. Sometimes, the meatier bits are somewhat more subdued in the mix, like on “The Sun Won’t Let Go”, a track primarily driven by acoustic guitars and the distorted guitars don’t overwhelm the mix as much as elsewhere. The title track of the album is similarly acoustic, although with the low-end guitars being basically non-existent, as it focuses primarily on the effects-driven guitars, soaked in reverb and sustained/howling across the entirety of the tune. Cloakroom create some pretty solid experiences with how they know when and where to add/remove the heavier bits, and it carries a vibe vaguely reminiscent of bands like Windhand and even Torche, occasionally.
Perhaps the greatest musical asset in the band’s toolkit is the work of drummer Brian Busch. Compared to a lot of his contemporaries, Busch definitely knows how to use his work behind the kit to flesh out and accentuate the band’s songwriting. Instead of just acting like a human metronome, his drumming has a level of compositional intricacy that adds so much flavor to each tune. “Gone But Not Entirely” has the hi-hats accentuating the up-beats of each measure while throwing in some alternating tom hits and other creative fills, and “Big World” similarly has the snare accentuating the 4th beat of each measure for a rather unique rhythmic vibe that really catches your attention, especially when the drums fill in the empty space in the guitars rhythms. The album as a whole has a lot of highly dynamic drum work, and much of this is aided by the production. While the guitar production is very clear in the clean parts and punchy in the heavy parts, the drum tones throughout are pretty raw overall, which works in its favor. They feel like a proper extension of Busch’s playing, full of character and personality, and it creates the sensation that you’re right there in the studio listening to the band play. The most effective example is on the track “The Sun Won’t Let Go”, with the drums at their most raw-sounding, save for a tiny bit of reverb in the snare hits, giving them the punchiest sound of any track on the record.
If there’s any criticisms to be had of the record, it’s purely a matter of taste, i.e. how you prefer your shoegaze music to be. Time Well’s overall sound favors a lot of pretty slow to sorta-mid-tempo melancholic tracks that are anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes on average (and the closing track is a whopping 9 minutes), and the album as a whole clocks in at just over an hour. It’s pretty solid for what it does, but if you’re the type of individual who maybe prefers their shoegaze to be either more concise and to the point or with a faster tempo, then Cloakroom is maybe not the right band for you. This is a band that definitely likes to mellow out on of riffs and ideas for extended periods of time, writing music that does require a bit of patience. But for those willing to invest the time, you’ll find an album that shows a great deal of promise, with an incredibly melancholic collection of dreamy, hypnotic, and often heavy tunes that can chill out and pack a punch at the same time, creating a unique listening experience. While I’m not a huge expert on the genre myself, I enjoyed what I heard on this release, and I’m interested to see where Cloakroom goes from here.
Verdict: Stream it. While a little repetitive at times, there’s definitely some solid dreamy/heavy soundscapes on this thing and it’s worth at least a listen or two.
Time Well is available from Relapse Records on CD, limited edition vinyl, digital download (iTunes, Bandcamp, etc.), and streaming services. Follow Cloakroom on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
[Note: A copy of the album was provided by Relapse Records for the purpose of this review.]