Review Summary: Gleemer finds clarity.
What does rock music mean in 2020? Is it a stale commercial product that treats Nickelback as year zero, played on FM stations for guys who drive Jeep Wranglers with aftermarket angry face grilles? Is it hearing Boston, or Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles for the nineteen trillionth time, and the occasional young artist emulating the affectations of pentatonic blues rock? These seem like evolutionary dead ends. When the alternative is pop groups like Maroon 5 or Imagine Dragons, who for some bizarre reason the music press continues to insist are something resembling a “rock band,” things seems bleak indeed.
Fortunately, we have Gleemer, who pose their own answer to rock music's fate. Compared to the past influences mined by contemporary artists - from 80s synth-pop of The Midnight to the blues-rock cliches of Greta Van Fleet, Gleemer’s inspiration from 90s alternative - though not exactly original - doesn’t seem quite so stale. Down Through is the album in which Gleemer stops sounding so much like their influences, or something that could be easily pigeonholed into niche subgenera, and starts just sounding like themselves. In the process, they plot a course for what the future of rock could be - emotive and sensitive, yet not angsty. Balanced between tenderness and power. Quietly modest, at odds with guitar heroism - yet rich with melodic hooks.
In past albums Gleemer could fall into a tendency to repeat themselves. This was particularly evident on Anymore, in which several songs, though strong in their own rights, fell into similar drum beats and chord progressions that lent a certain monotony to it. With Down Through, Gleemer finally escapes and manages to somehow sound more diverse and focused at the same time. Opener “Brush Back” doesn’t sound like the first tracks from either of their last few albums; it’s richer, more complex, less evocative of any immediate comparison. Think about the rare alternative band of the 90s whose major-label debut was better than their independent work, and you’re getting close.
What really distinguishes Down Through, and Gleemer’s work as a whole, from the average indie band exploiting retro influences is Gleemer’s skill at integrating these influences into a voice uniquely their own. Where most bands with similar ambitions capture the feeling of hearing, say, a new Smashing Pumpkins song, Gleemer creates the feeling of hearing a great song by a new band in the 90s. This distinction might sound semantic but it’s crucial to understanding what elevates Down Through above emo revival landfill.
Down Through reflects more than mere refinement. “Leadings On” shows the benefit of Will Yip’s production: an intensely-focused track enveloped in gloomy chords summoned from the depths of 1990s angst, driven by powerful drumming from Charlie O’Neil and the juxtaposition of Corey Coffman’s evocative vocals. Speaking of Corey’s vocals, they’re the most-changed element of Gleemer’s sound on Down Through. “Take” demonstrates this most clearly: a remake of “Casino Nights” from 2014’s Holyland USA, Coffman sounds like a different vocalist. “Casino Nights” exemplified the vocals of early Gleemer, a drawling honk that made their early output sound more distinctive, and though toned down over time, never really disappeared until now.
This captures Gleemer’s evolution from shoegaze revivalists into twenty-first century guitar pop, and while some fans might miss Gleemer’s rougher edges, the quality of Down Through makes it evident that this was the right move. Yip’s production, essential to elevating artists like Turnover and Title Fight, doesn’t upend Gleemer’s sound or result in Down Through sounding like Peripheral Vision Part II. Instead, it leads to Gleemer sounding like the best version of themselves. Really, the only way in which Down Through might be a downgrade is that the heavy, hazy guitar tones of Anymore were slightly better.
Gleemer’s ambition has always been the pursuit of the perfectly evocative, immersive record, and with Down Through, the band achieve this even better than on 2015’s outstanding Moving Away. Importantly, this objective shields Down Through from any sense of artistic compromise in pursuit of accessibility. If you listened to American Football’s first LP and stared at the album art the whole time, then Down Through will almost certainly be your 2020 Album Of The Year, because Gleemer understands you. Like previous releases, the lyrics are impenetrable, high-context shards of emotion that are felt rather than analyzed, a new vision of a universal language of midwestern emo that makes the genre more accessible than ever before without detracting from depth of repeat listening.
And trust me, you’ll be listening to Down Through on repeat because at a brisk 34 minutes, not a moment is excess. The songs are exactly as long as necessary, the climaxes never overstaying their welcome. While another song or two would have been nice, the length lends itself well to the vinyl format, like prior records. The acoustic guitar of “TTX” and “Worth” add an additional dynamic to Gleemer’s straight-ahead push. Speaking of which, Down Through exorcises without ill effect the last traces of dream pop influence, so strongly felt on 2014’s Holyland USA.
Down Through is a clear frontrunner for album of the year and a record that similar bands will be hard pressed to surpass. It’s a rare piece of emo with the potential to delight longtime fans and win over a new following in the process, representing Gleemer at their very best. And a sign of life for no-prefix rock music.