Review Summary: If it's broke, it works.
In describing the genre of emo, the one unifying concept that tends to prevail is that of emphasized emotion, which is where the relatively young and oft-maligned classification earned its namesake. Instrumental and vocal deliveries vary, their implementation never distracting from the primary focus: unadulterated feeling. It is underneath that central pillar however that emerges another factor of emo music, an aspect that is arguably just as critical to the category’s definition as its eponymous characteristic. This art of being imperfect—the willingness to be and the acceptance of imperfection—is potentially what draws me in the most above all else. Rarely is a release under this particular genre’s banner completely polished in the same manner as fellow musical outlets; production elements conquer a spectrum ranging from a soothing cloud of mist to an engulfing wall of unforgiving static, with lyrical constructions arriving cloaked in evocative, despairing metaphors or the brutal honesty of self-loathing. By rejecting the allures of cleanliness, retaining the core emotional experience in its pure state, collectives of this type paint the scenery of their world precisely through imperfection. The notes that appear serve as the brush strokes to a landscape; perhaps a soft, melodic strumming is a nostalgic breeze, and perhaps the clash of drums signals an oncoming downpour. The final product encompasses each individual moment of contact with the sonic canvas, cataloguing restraint and violence in their respective magnitudes, their colors intermingling to form what may appear as a mangled portrait. Such is emo’s goal: to erode the veneer of human skin to expose that which lies behind the façade. In a way, it is gorgeous precisely because it is not.
When Shirokuma enter in the opening seconds of their sophomore effort, Clothes I Wear For The Space I'm In
, the resulting frame mirrors the wintry surroundings of the band’s locale, Sweden. A soft acoustic introduction quickly gives way to the discordant roar of the guitars, abrasive in their tone yet muted all the same. Combined with the anguish dispersed by a distant screaming, the album’s opener, “Black Lungs,” gives off the impression that the band is fading away into cold depths and is desperately searching for a foothold somewhere amidst the snowfall. The foggy haze that dominates the mix places the performers far from the audience, simultaneously accentuating every strike made to pierce through. Like a torch burning dimly through a blizzard, the guitars lead the journey through their strong melodies, their compositions delicate and deliberate in defiance of the oppressive weather. In this regard, Shirokuma are not quite separate from their fellow countrymen Suis La Lune; both groups employ colorful passages at the front of their sound, and it is by this that they are primarily identified. Songs such as “Flies” exemplify this trait to an extraordinary degree, the track’s defeatist chorus accompanied by an appropriately mournful melody, its desolate call provided more weight by the vocalist’s strained cries. Multiple similar bands utilizing a scream-centric approach seem to be predisposed to racing ahead at breakneck speeds in order to craft their desired intensity. Yet winter is not often such an aggressive customer; the Stockholm natives respond in kind by occupying a mid-tempo plane, allowing space for their atmosphere to develop. There is less of an outward severity to this strategy, but the potent ambiance, serene melodies, and contradictory emotional extremes merge to form a beast capable of producing even greater staying power.
Experimenting with tempo structures allows for Shirokuma to thoroughly diversify the numbers lining up their disc. The speed of individual songs is freely toyed with, which creates an additional layer of intrigue to the output presented. Throughout the duration of “Smiles,” the percussion takes the leadership position in guiding the pace of fellow instruments, kicking off by entertaining a slow rhythm as the guitars and bass interplay with each other. After embarking upon some moments of calm, the closing run of the track is promptly launched to truly cement the climax. At the furthest reaches of this range is the punishing, slothful march demonstrated in “Seven Candles,” the Swedes incorporating a titanic riff of sludge proportions. Alongside the omnipresent static bedlam and a devastating lower end managed by both drums and bass, the tune’s force aspires to magnitudes well beyond its four-minute existence. It is inside the album’s self-titled conclusion, however, where the primary surprise awaits: those fleeting acoustics from the record’s beginning return, lending their graceful nature to craft a post-rock-inspired crescendo. Three minutes pass before Shirokuma resumes their assault for the final stretch. So as Clothes I Wear…
started, so as it ends: scarce seconds of reprieve shattered by winter’s iron fist. Having this level of restraint is admirable; it would have been much easier to maintain a similar formula but at a hurried pace, as per conventional wisdom. Speed of course is not necessarily a positive or negative inherently, though it is evident in this case that gradual forays convey the mood of the release, morphing it into an incredible hook for anyone who listens.
There are certainly ‘standard’ entries that are included on the listing wherein technicality is slightly supplanted to let the band’s main attributes shine. Essentially all manacles are released for the raucous “Present Day,” whose memorable refrain and youthful, anthemic lyrics bring to mind the depressing-yet-energetic Departures. The song’s foundational guitar riff rises and falls to provide a bouncing sort of rhythm—the kind that practically forces jumping and fist-pumping defiance. Once more the monstrous vocal performance, awash with unbridled hopelessness, charges forward, his high-pitched exclamations echoing the fire brewing slowly inside the audience—attempting to melt the ice. That infectious chorus rings as genuine: “Lonely kids in a ***ed up world / I give you my heart, love and soul / We are the smoke, a nail in the eye / To the pretty window of society's side.” Because of that alluring aura blanketing the production, those relatable phrases plucked straight from the heart, and a strikingly haunting-yet-beautiful delivery, I’m led to believe in everything Shirokuma display. Clothes I Wear…
is a fragile entity that could shatter at any moment; it more than likely wants to per the emotional trauma expressed. It is about as brittle and full of cracks as the interior of one’s soul. The way that those cracks make themselves known to Shirokuma is through those howls in the blizzard, or some swooping melodies to light a path, or a slice of uncompromising truth. In the end of “Present Day,” the vocalist yells out into the void, “It always feel like somebody's watching me.” His lungs sound as though they may collapse and the stormy production is creeping over dangerously. It is uncomfortable, imperfect in its resonating explosion. And that’s exactly why it works.