If depression had an official soundtrack, there’s no question it’d be exclusively comprised of songs from post-punk’s family tree. The genre’s swirl of reverb, haunting bass lines and drab, lifeless vocals capture the essence of endlessly staring out the window of a dimly lit room on a rainy day, every day. Yet, there’s beauty to be found within every iteration of post-punk’s palette. Every dreary melody on an album like Joy Division‘s Unknown Pleasures or The Cure‘s Disintegration is precisely that: a melody. Just as depression is grappled with in a myriad way, so to is post-punk crafted and interpreted in countless directions, whether it be for catharsis or numb bliss. And then there are those occasional bands like Glaare who aim for an inclusive approach to the symptoms of depression, achieving more than just a sonic representation of the disorder. With their debut album To Deaf and Day present a synthesis of genres and moods that deliver a feeling of every facet of living with depression, with all its crushing lows as well as its moments of happiness piercing through the fog.
The LA trio should be commended for their approach to post-punk, which eschews the traditional, minimalist approach to the genre in favor a lush display of atmospheres from the melancholic rock canon. This is largely due to a heavy reliance on shoegaze aesthetics, with plenty of apparent influence from My Blood Valentine and Slowdive appearing at the core of the album’s sound. But don’t expect any soaring choruses or bright, shimmering walls of sound; Glaare offers up some of the most dismal shoegaze to ever seep out of the genre. The somber haze of guitar reverb intertwines with Rachael Pierce’s bold, powerful vocals for a dark, crushing delivery that maintains its grit throughout. The trio accents these influences further with generous portions of dream pop and darkwave informed by heavy goth sensibilities, with Pierce’s vocals truly tying these elements together and solidifying comparisons to Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe.
All of this comes together to create a spellbinding listen, and one which demands the attention of those remotely interested with any of the aforementioned genres. Each track benefits from having multiple aspects that could each act as highlights in their own right and form exceptional pieces of music as a unit. “My Love Groves in Darkness” propels the album into being with a perfect example of this phenomenon in action. The track feels like a dancier, dream pop rendition of the gorgeous atmospheres on Disintegration, complete with a haunting chorus from Pierce that somehow manages to be deceptively catchy. As the track concludes, it’s almost jarring to pause and realize how well the band leveraged adjacent elements to craft a fresh rendition of familiar concepts. This trend continues to bolster the album from track to track, what with tracks like “Like They Do” coming across as a severely depressed version of Souvlaki, “First Rain” propping its post-punk atmospheres with subtle, retro progressive electronic synth lines, and “Ruins” sounding like a a dark, post-punk remix of Mogwai‘s (severely underrated) electro-tinged post-rock OST for Les Revenants. There’s no shortage of these retro influences on the tail end of the album, which feels like a complicated love letter to the darkest moments of 80s post-punk. “Surrender/Control” explodes with a massive climax that’s foreshadowed by some of the best synth arrangements on the entire album, while “Isky” may be the closest the band comes to writing an earworm pop hit.
With all this talk of the band’s keen compositional abilities, it’s worth noting their unique relationship with reverb. Though it’s been a staple of guitar effects for decades, reverb has recently seen a spike in its negative reputation along with the 80s revival moments flowing through a myriad of genres and scenes. Many people have argued that reverb is somehow a cop-out taken advantage of by bands who can’t write good songs on their own, which is of course an absurd claim; no amount of distortion, reverb or any other manner of guitar effects can mask a lack of songwriting. This certainly doesn’t apply to Glaare, whose ability to pen complex post-punk dirges is the central trait that defines To Deaf and Day as a highlight release for the year. Yet, the band does struggle a bit with the inverse of this dilemma, in that each of the tracks on the album could benefit from a bit less reverb to allow the performances to shine brighter on their own. Now, let’s emphasize that this is a minor, speculative observation; Glaare’s liberal use of reverb does amplify the overall atmosphere of the album and its consuming impact, and the album’s full production assures clarity for every brilliant idea the band puts forward. But given the songwriting prowess present throughout every track, it’s worth wondering whether or not the reverb levels could’ve been dialed back slightly to allow the band’s playing to step out from behind the shoegaze haze and feel more emotionally sharp and direct.
Yet, this minor critique doesn’t inhibit the abundance of quality present on To Deaf and Day. Glaare operate in a pocket all their own, resting between the darkest shades of shoegaze and dream pop and the brightest moments of post-punk and darkwave. There’s an extraordinary amount of previously untapped territory that the band elevates to an incredible, enticing level of musical prowess, made all the more impressive by its status as a debut record. Fans of any of the genre’s Glaare operates in have no excuse for missing out on what’s perhaps the strongest post-punk releases of the year, and undoubtedly the boldest take on the genre in recent memory.
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To Deaf and Day is out now via Dune Altar.