Review Summary: We Only Live to be Alive.
It’s uncommon for a band to resonate so easily with the listener, especially on their debut album. Mostly it takes time for music to blossom, it slowly digs a hole in the listener’s emotions and fills it with fertilizer made from the melodies and lyrics found in the music. However, nothing in music is more enjoyable when a new album or song just etches itself into your memory on the first listen. Bloom and Breathe, the debut full-length from post-rock/alternative outfit Gates, sees the band reaching a point in their career that many of their contemporaries fail to achieve in their lifetime. It is an album of serene moments that lavishly entices the listener with its tidal waves of emotion and bliss.
Those who enjoy loud and harmonious climaxes, solid and intense buildups, and quiet to loud vocals will feel right at home. The album excels at enveloping its melodies and buildups in a glossy coating, yet it doesn’t explode right when you think it may. The greatest example of this being the opener, “Everything That Ever Has Been”; it builds up in a terrific display of harmonious instrumentation, but subsides into a smooth ambience. That is until the transition into the second song, “Bloom”, kicks in with full force. Gates perfects using transitions like this to their benefit. Most of the songs on the album start off right where the previous song left off; allowing the album to feel like it isn’t just a collection of many songs, but a solidified unit. Everything flows so smoothly, making each transition to a new song more robust and transcending. Bloom and Breathe masterfully crafts an instrumental treat with each song on the album, balancing the heavy hitting titans of the first few tracks with the haunting acoustic ballad “Marrow” and the downbeat and powerful “Low”.
Vocalist Kevin Dye really sells the sincerity and the emotion within the written pages of Bloom and Breathe. When he is not quietly whispering sincere and thought provoking lyrics, he is shouting out a grand array of memorable choruses above the soaring instrumentation. “Persist in Delusion” shows Dye perfectly showcasing his voice in both aspects. His singing voice is clear and follows the melody of the music sublimely. Until the music begins to fasten into a bright chorus, as his voice hangs just above the music. However, his voice in many of the choruses and louder sections is slightly marred by the rather cheesy use of having many recordings of his voice played at once. When he whispers and sings, his voice sounds natural and quite sincere. He succeeds in enveloping the listener just before the apexes, but the echoed voices sound mostly generic and rather redundant among the beautiful instrumentation. His more dynamic notes are best when they aren’t being echoed by other similar voices, and tracks like “Not My Blood” and “Low” both show that his voice can be especially powerful when loud.
Out of all of the tracks on the entire album, one stands out among the rest. The last single to be released, “Not my Blood”, contains an incredible display of all the elements I previously mentioned. The song opens with a beautiful guitar line and Dye’s voice singing some of the most breathtaking lyrics on the record, until he sings “I only live to be alive” which is followed by a brilliant instrumental bridge. The song exceeds at not only providing vivid lyrics and instrumentation, but at smart writing and interesting musical structure. It plays around with the thought of some grandiose culmination, but it never clearly addresses when it will be. Signs of a buildup are found in the bridge, and the progressive vocals and instruments leading to a single dragged on note really stack up the intensity. Just as the note seems as if it was held to signal the end of the song, it blooms. The bridge returns, louder and more majestic. Its moments like this, where the suspense of the music is so great, that it leaves the listener guessing to where the peak may be until he/she is wailed by the great wall of sound.
Bloom and Breathe is a substantial triumph in not only the post-rock/alternative genre, but in music this year as a whole. It’s full of many unexpected twist and turns that bloom into some truly beautiful music. The instrumentation is well-rounded, containing many soft and intricate melodies as well as loads of majestic pinnacles. Bloom and Breathe stands a feverish reminder of how an incredible debut can start building a legacy which will hopefully see the band reach even greater heights.