Review Summary: One step further removed from reality
It’s clear from the waking chimes and pianos that Light Mirror
is not a medium for celebrating life’s pleasantries and victories. Those familiar with Drowse would expect no less, of course. Portland’s Kyle Bates, the sole member, tends to let the somber notes do the talking while bouts of fog smother his shadowy soundscapes and loosely-stitched stories. As with 2018’s Cold Air
, these songs too seem to stumble around in the twilight while attempting to illuminate thoughts and anecdotes that interact but are not strictly intertwined. The ever-shifting yet consistent atmosphere could almost fool you into believing this is a concept album, though Bates’ trains of thought may as well be ‘concept’ enough.
“Between Fence Posts” and “Shower Pt. 2” revive familiar sounds to Drowse’s repertoire: an abundance of tinkering, ringing, fuzz, and phantom-like vocals that feel as if they’re floating all around you. “Bipolar 1” gracefully envelopes the listener in a dark autumn haze reminiscent of certain takes from Slowdive’s Pygmalion
, without explicitly mimicking or stealing from their book. It’s also hard to not draw comparisons with neighboring act Mount Eerie in the record’s various passages of lo-fi acoustic ruminations and quirky production.
The opening trio tricks the audience into thinking that this journey will trace the same path as Bates’ previous outings, but the second act begins to defiantly stray from that path. “Physical World” successfully fights tooth and nail to be the standout track of the album. A few minutes into the standard fare, all the instruments and noises begin to flee in cowardice as if something more powerful and dangerous is looming on the horizon. It conjures the same aura as the mountain-dwellers’ reactions to the awakening of the Balrog in the depths of the Misty Mountains. An authoritative, tribalistic pounding clears the way for an eerie bassline that unravels into the song’s complete and unrestrained psychotic breakdown. The madness seamlessly transitions into an 80s synth-laden interlude that only continues the trend of breaking Drowse norms.
There are times in the back half of Light Mirror
where songs tend meander too long and either overstay their welcome or conclude without contributing anything of real substance to the work as a whole. Bates has drawn light criticism for this habit in the past, as some of his better ideas fail to materialize into something full and meaningful. Those seldom tracks turn into vacuums in the album’s runtime, where minutes quietly disappear without being noticed. But even then, they continue to provide a consistent atmosphere that, at the very least, string the more potent songs together.
“Betty” is the final fully fleshed-out track and is one of the most coherent and accessible songs under the Drowse moniker. The uncharacteristically optimistic guitar and breathtaking vocals soar upwards arm-in-arm to reach the emotional peak of the record, as the words are uttered, “Do you remember showing me where sky meets lake; Watching you watch the light fade, I knew we felt the same ache.” The last page flips much like the first – with nothing but ambience and curiosity – only this time less foreboding and more content. The title of the track itself is stylized with quotes: “Don’t Scratch the Wound.” By doing this, he not instructing the listener, but rather recounting and passing along a reminder that he was probably given at some point along the way.
And so the notes and daydreams float around like butterflies, not wanting to be caught just yet. They nearly fall into the writer’s jar themselves at times, only to realize that stability and finality is something that always eludes to some extent. The next time we are given a glimpse inside this inquisitive mind, I suspect they’ll still be up there, fluttering around in blissful disarray.