Cloakroom‘s space rock has never orbited too far from solid ground. Beneath the heady layers of guitars swimming in distortion and other effects is an earthy and earnest foundation, a melodic sensibility that’s not so distant from blues and folk when you dig down deep enough. This bears out in the band’s choice of occasional covers, which have included tracks from both Songs: Ohia and Tom Petty, but it’s easy enough to find within their own original compositions, like the slow, melancholy strums of “Sickle Moon Blues” or the otherworldly blues of “Time Well.” As the band drifts ever outward, reaching toward farther musical spaces, they remain tethered, never having lost their grounding in spite of that sonic exploration.
Following the epic expanse of 2017’s Time Well, a gorgeously heavy slice of contemporary shoegaze with occasional forays into something bigger and sludgier, the group still had plenty of room to push further into uncharted space. Yet the reverse was also true, that a return to terra firma might further hone in on Cloakroom’s more melodic roots, less obscured by a forcefield of pedalboards—not that this was ever a bad thing.
Dissolution Wave is neither a straightforward alt-rock album nor Cloakroom unplugged, but it spotlights the Great Lakes grungegazers’ most unheralded strength at its most direct: Their songwriting. It’s a big album, a heavy album, even a pretty cosmically ambitious one, yet never at the expense of the song upon which all of these additional elements are built. In a track like opener “Lost Meaning,” the hooks are pushed up front, the deep layers of fuzz are as car-radio friendly as they are headphone fodder, and only a few seconds pass between the opening squeal and the introduction of the verse, vocalist Doyle Martin asking, “Are you with me?”
Where their first and second albums represented Cloakroom at their crunchiest and dreamiest, respectively, Dissolution Wave finds a mellifluous common ground, tightening up song lengths and evading some of the more expansive expeditions in favor of something more stunningly urgent. Few of the band’s songs before now have sounded anything like “A Force at Play,” a jangle-pop gem of a song that revels in lightness, accented by gentle flourishes of piano and graceful shimmer. They could have very easily supplied too much of this very good thing, but here it’s a breath of fresh air, a gorgeously catchy moment of deceptive simplicity that reveals as much growth in their sound as the more thunderous epics.
Of course, those are as amazing as ever here, more compact and efficient as they are. No track here feels as immense as “Dottie Back Thrush,” an anthem that cycles through movements of burly crunch, gossamer dream pop, melancholy acoustic interludes and an explosive, heroic climax, all in less than five minutes. By comparison, closing track “Dissembler” is more of a pure rock song, driven by a roaring, chunky riff and unassailable swagger—a song that should be blasting out of the speakers in ZZ Top’s Eliminator roadster, at least for the two minutes before it, too, achieves liftoff.
The irony of Dissolution Wave being Cloakroom’s most earthbound set of songs is that they’re unified by a sci-fi concept involving a kind of hierarchal song filter that keeps the earth rotating on its axis. Though to call this a purely escapist set of songs is both misleading and erroneous; Martin’s vocals more often than not are as much a melodic device as a narrative one, and even with the layer of fictionalization, the conceit “mirrors our real world and our personal lives, pretty hard,” he says, pointing out that building this curious fantasy world was a means of making sense of a few years of grieving and personal trauma. The world that Cloakroom imagines isn’t necessarily better, but their soundtrack for it is enough to make it seem so, a pure distillation of their sound that doesn’t sacrifice accessibility for intricate beauty, and vice versa.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.