Cloakroom celebrate a decade of dreamily distorted soundscapes with Dissolution Wave – a marvellous record that entices you to sink into endless orbit within the comforting whimsy of its pondering, powerful cosmos.
I’ve been a fan of Cloakroom since catching them back in 2018 with Caspian at The Flapper in Birmingham, UK. It was an intimate gig in the pub’s compact basement, so the encroaching, almost claustrophobic brick walls meant that the effect of the band’s heavy space rock was compounded as it totally engulfed my senses. I recall eagerly savouring such an expansive palette of textured sound, knowing it was truly a testament to Cloakroom’s songwriting (as well as translation of said music to the live stage) that they could still transport me to such wide-open realms in such a confined space.
Now, in their tenth year of existence, the trio are set to launch themselves into the next decade of their journey with a third album: Dissolution Wave. A few years have elapsed since previous release, 2017’s Time Well, but fortunately, the same, weighty walls of gazey rock are as prevalent as when I first heard them on the likes of “Paperweight”, and the band’s spacey compositions seem more far-reaching than ever before – with good reason.
It’s rare that I review records with an explicit narrative underpinning them, although there’s never a conscious reason or choice behind that fact. Dissolution Wave is a pleasant departure from this unintended norm, set in a fictional context that is aptly summed up on Cloakroom‘s Bandcamp:
‘Dissolution Wave is a concept – a space western in which an act of theoretical physics – the dissolution wave – wipes out all of humanity’s existing art and abstract thought. In order to keep the world spinning on its axis, songsmiths must fill the ether with their compositions. Meanwhile, the Spire and Ward of Song act as a filter for human imagination: only the best material can pass through the filter and keep the world turning.’
Guitarist/vocalist Doyle Martin initially formed the concept as a means by which to process recent years: ‘We lost a couple of close friends over the course of writing this record… Dreaming up another world felt easier to digest than the real nitty-gritty we’re immersed in every day.‘ Further evidence, then, that the importance of art as catharsis can never be understated.
The eight threads of lyrical storytelling woven together on the album see Cloakroom follow the journey of a central character – an asteroid miner – who labours at his songs during the night. Softly spun vocals step out gracefully from bold instrumentals, offering tuneful insight into themes such as solitude, anxiety preceding judgement of his compositions (“Dissembler”), and regretful consideration of his choices (“Dissolution Wave”). Despite being set within a clear conceptual narrative, Cloakroom still retain a clear relevance and empathy to real-world circumstances and emotions, shared through poetic lines that are certainly worth delving into.
Although calmer and more reflective at times, elsewhere the immediacy of the band’s hazy, thick wall of sound is an absolute delight – routinely marking a stark contrast to the melodic, often harmonised vocal delivery. Just take “Lost Meaning”, which launches us into the record’s orbit without a moment’s hesitation. A few moderately energised bars do little to prepare us for the incoming power that you are due to encounter – particularly on the low end of matters. This is still achieved with finesse and composure, in a way that gives the whole album an impressive accessibility to potential listeners.
The floating bassline and restrained drumming (courtesy of Robert Markos and Timothy Remis, respectively) that populate the record’s title track – and many others – leave us adrift in a repetitive, celestial dance between its reverberating lead and lingering rhythm section. You’ll also find evolving and unexpected chord choices that keep you engaged as a listener, here and throughout Dissolution Wave. “A Force At Play” is a great example – as depicted in the entertaining video above – subverting expectations by toying with routine chord progressions, leading the track with a jaunty sense of whimsy that eludes the pervading sense of pressure and peril tied into the album’s concept.
Dissolution Wave‘s moderate pacing is bolstered in several instances with shimmering synth/electronic touches that lend heavily to its spacial themes. Then you have tracks like “Fear Of Being Fixed”, which drives home the veritable sense of elongated isolation with an inherent wistfulness nestled in its slow pace. In fact, most of the record’s latter half takes on a decidedly more lambent vibe – with spattered moments of exception – as the punchier side of Cloakroom‘s sound finds itself more sparsely employed in favour of a more acoustic, echoing charisma. Penultimate track “Doubts” embodies this in particular, romancing the listener into a practically comatose state with its sultry, skyward-glimpsing overtones.
Don’t get too cosy in your drifting state, though, as Cloakroom are not without a final, bludgeoning bullet in the chamber. “Dissembler” sees our galaxial venture bow out at the mercy of its dense, crunchy riffs and widening ambiance – increasing energy through tempo fluctuations that make for a close that is as rewarding as it is unpredictable. What fate befalls the our songwriting, asteroid-mining protagonist, you cry? Well, it wouldn’t be sporting of me to say, but I certainly made inferences of my own from the record’s finale.
Endearing concept and fantastic, conscientious musical performances aside, credit also goes to Zac Montez, who is responsible for creating a splendid final mix that results in a staggeringly broad soundscape across the span of Dissolution Wave. It captures the cosmic setting and varied tones perfectly, and although ever-present, it’s a spectrum perhaps best summarised within the illustrious and diverse textures of “Lambspring” – its modest pace and synthetic touches leading to a closing crescendo that offers a powerful and hugely satisfying thrust into the beyond.
Martin states of the record’s conceptual scenario that ‘if you don’t write a good enough song in this universe, you run the risk of being forgotten‘. With stellar songwriting, excellent performances throughout, and an inescapable charm at its core, Cloakroom have once again shown why no such fate has befallen them in the past ten years, nor is it likely to in the next ten. Instead, you’ll undoubtedly gravitate towards this nuanced album, allowing Dissolution Wave to draw you deeper into its contemplative, crushing obsidian ether.