The only prerequisite for playing slowcore is the pace at which it moves, rarely if ever escalating above a double-digit BPM. But the sound built upon that foundational crawl is subject to the whim of its creators, be it the serene jangle of Galaxie 500, the tumultuous churn of Codeine or the apparitional gloom of early Low. The pregnant pauses between snare hits is the rare thing that Lawrence, Kansas trio Flooding share in common with any of those bands, their musical approach more aesthetically agitated, abrasive and gnarled. They’re committed not so much to stillness so much as lingering discomfort and prolonged purge.
More loud than languorous, more seething than sedate, Flooding’s sophomore album Silhouette Machine seems to scan as slowcore only in flashes. There’s a definite grace to how the group operates, achieving a cathartic release only through more gradual movements, but with a rawness and textural grit that draws more explicitly from noise rock. Their dirges are rendered in deep shades of charcoal and rust, and punctuated with vocalist Rose Brown’s visceral screams. The beauty often inherent in music whose virtues are defined by giving each moment the space to resonate more deeply is here, sometimes coexisting with a more sinister and scathing parallel.
On their self-titled debut album, Flooding embraced a more delicate palette, harnessing a sparing muscularity even as they preferred more conventionally pretty songwriting throughout much of its duration. Silhouette Machine amplifies that sense of power and intensity, not so much breaking into a gallop as imbuing their lurch with a greater sense of paranoia and menace. Leadoff track “Run” immediately feels like a plunge into more treacherous waters, a tense, Slint-like tumble of arpeggios escalating into a caustic eruption of searing noise rock. It pounds, screeches and pummels, Brown amplifying the sense of danger through softly muttered lines such as “To be guided by fear, I was taught.” “Transept Exit,” by comparison, offers the illusion of being more tempered, but nearly halfway in erupts into a furious roar. Yet “Silver Gilt” carries only a few sparse moments of ruminative twinkle, its core composed of driving post-hardcore reminiscent of Unwound at their most sinewy, driven by the steamroller rhythm section of bassist Cole Billings and drummer Zach Cunningham. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which you might say a “slowcore” song kicked ass, but, well, here we are.
When Flooding heighten the contradictions between meditative restraint and convulsive gnashing, they arrive upon their most stunning moments often precisely because of that contrast. Much of “Muzzle” comprises Flooding’s most graceful material, Brown’s guitar ringing out in sustained, open notes, gradually building up steam and tension beneath her softly cooed lament, “It’s so hard to be true to everything about me with you/When everything about me is something to be fixed.” The eight-plus-minute “Slit” is most disarming of all, dreamy and mysterious in its gossamer braids of guitar and vocals, Brown cryptically asking, “Am I a lily of the valley/Or am I the weed of a ditch?” as the song staggers into a guttural din. The answer with Flooding is often both—an object of beauty and coarse aberration alike, gaining greater strength by building a bridge between the two.
Label: The Ghost Is Clear
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.