Review Summary: swathes of lonelinessCold Air
doesn’t quash uncertainty; it surrenders to it, at full blast. Drowse (primarily, Portland musician Kyle Bates) makes mood music, fortifying the ugliest of unsung emotions. He toys with apathy, embarrassment, dreariness, and lethargy, embroidering them in ways that probably shouldn’t be possible. Apparently recorded over the span of months and months in his home, this is house arrest at its most expansive. Look to a song like “Death Thought”, at the album’s midpoint: the slowcore foundation is buried under leaves, antiques, concrete noises, chimes, and gradually climaxes into something hopelessly isolated yet radiant, arms stretched outward. This is the spirit of Galaxie 500
, but with less grasp on reality and more optimistic flourish to make up for it. Bates’ skill in ambient textures elevates Cold Air
, making it deceptively effective. (The cascading layers of opener “Small Sleep” could almost pass for Love is a Stream
-era Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
, albeit more ghastly.) There is a lot happening, yet the overall tone doesn’t waver.
It’s impressive how consistent things remain, given the themes of instability. On highlight “Rain Leak”, a rare ‘catchy’ number, Bates mumbles, “Oh let it be known, that I’m afraid […] oh let it be known, that I’m ashamed
.” Cold Air
is full of naked admissions, where there is little romanticizing and much reluctant bearing-all. The soliloquies, denoted by parenthetical song titles - “(Body)”, “(Bedroom)”, “(Person)” - are almost interview-like, from the perspective of Bates’ mother. They candidly portray events leading up to the singer’s eventual mental breakdown and subsequent antipsychotic drug prescriptions. Acting as little vignettes, they are easily ignored, but have a lingering impact on the album’s tone. Cold Air
is granted a biographical element. Lars Gotrich of NPR writes that Cold Air “sounds like an intimate Mount Eerie home recording overdubbed with a worn-out cassette of The Cure's Disintegration
.” In aesthetic, sure, but Robert Smith always had the air of someone more aged in mentality, regardless of physical age; by contrast, Kyle Bates is, in his philosophy, a child.
The careful, borderline obsessive details make Cold Air
feel understated. The songwriting isn’t showy. In songs like the hazy “Klonopin", Bates and partner Maya Stoner mimic Mat Brooke and Jenn Ghetto of Carissa’s Wierd
. Even in “Rain Leak” - probably the liveliest song, with its trumpets, martial snare drum, and some of the more memorable vocals - things feel subdued, even if a thousand things are happening at once. Delirium can occur due to sensory deprivation, but here, the opposite is true. Sonically, the indirectly revealing “Knowing” seems influenced by Have a Nice Life
’s “Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000”, minus the philosophical themes of free will. There’s a refrain taken from Claire Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.
: “Go toward the enormous absence that is sleep.
" Here, Bates relates knowing to shared experience, admitting his own shortcomings in spelling himself out: “You’ll never know me without a seizure at age four […] You’ll never know me if you haven't known the sound of paramedics in the house, carrying your father down.
” Bates recounts soul-shaping events that cannot be sufficiently replicated for an audience in prose. Before the final curtain, closer “Shower” blends funeral doom, shoegaze, folk, and electronic tinkering, all the while abandoning the burden of stringent storytelling, relieved.
Fittingly, Bates’ closing words in “Shower” mention ‘human clouds’. The idea is, as we wash ourselves, our essence takes the form of steam and accumulates in the atmosphere. He concludes, of course with uncertainty, “Alive in your memory, living in the air / when you die is it still there¿
” Poetic waxing aside, this puts the airiness of the album into perspective. Cold Airs
lacks the staying power of many musicians/albums to which Bates seems indebted. That aside, Drowse has a sound that, as far-flung as its parts are, works, and doesn’t hamper the believability of his persona. Cold Air
doesn’t lack grounding, even if its ‘cloud’ dissipates after the credits roll. What remains are the anecdotes: the broken nose that may or may not have been deserved, his reaction to his father’s drooping face post-stroke, pieced-together accounts of substance abuse. As a lifting fog seems to accent the land beneath, the album’s hazy, fleeting ambience makes Bates’ existence - ugly, embarrassed / beautiful, ambitious - validated.