Depressing music is hit-or-miss for me, and my enjoyment of it often depends on where I am emotionally. If life is going badly sad music is a godsend, but at all other times it feels too angsty to be enjoyable. Maybe that’s why I like emo and post-rock so much: both styles tend to favour more ambiguously bittersweet or nostalgic vibes, and that suits me just fine no matter what mood I’m in. After all, you’re never too sad or too pleased to acknowledge that life’s default mode is ‘meh’ and that everything was better when you were a kid.
New Hampshire’s Lavinia are interesting because I don’t really know where to place them on this spectrum. On their album ‘Sallowed’, they deliver a post-rock inflected style of alt/emo that’s pretty bleak, but also too slightly upbeat for it to be totally depressing. Look at the weird guitar (or keyboard, I can’t tell) lead that takes out Fall Risk, or the controlled post-rock freak-outs that show up intermittently throughout the album. I can just picture the band, professional and totally in control, methodically conjuring up that grey noise, piecing it together bit by bit. A truly depressed band probably wouldn’t have the energy.
But maybe this is getting too real. I’m definitely not qualified to talk about depression.
Lavinia’s 41-minute debut is as measured and glassy as the most concise post-rock bands – and there are vocals. Everything about it feels very sensible and I like it a lot. The instruments all sound great, tied together with naturalistic production style that renders everything audible and not too separate nor too squashed together. The distorted guitars are suitably warm and slightly crunchy and I particularly like the bass sound, which is contained but gets similarly crunchy during loud sections. Drums are washy and open-sounding, and it’s all very pleasant. It’s nothing particularly interesting or unique, but it is satisfying and very well done, and should enough to satisfy even the cynical emo kid.
Similarly, the songs are well-written and the vocals aren’t cringey, which is nice. Songs weave between delay and reverb-laden cleans and band’s distorted sections that feel less like gazey build-ups than musical detours – and I mean this in a good way. The loose, almost meandering progressions that the songs take add to the bleak, lonely atmosphere of the album, beautifully evoking the grey emptiness of a mild depressive spell. It thankfully never veers into full-blown shoegaze territory, with each instrument remaining distinct at all times. And it’s not despairing, or even sad, really – more aggressively dissatisfied in a way that American Football was always too optimistic for. It’s less ‘that’s life, so social’ here, it’s more that ‘that’s life, and it’ll always be this grey and it’ll always be this cold’. They remind me a little of local Melbourne post-rock legends Laura, who, now that I think on it, covered similarly detached emotional ground.
The vocals, dreary and dispassionate, help keep the songs rooted without feeling at all intrusive. There were no lyrics listed in either the promo or the Bandcamp page, and I feel like the album almost didn’t need them at all. They’re mixed pretty evenly with the rest of the instruments and are neither catchy nor enunciated enough for me to feel that it’s worth focussing on and barring the occasional snatch (“I thought about dying”) that probably got the gist across anyway. I almost feel like it’s better not knowing completely.
It’s a good album. The quality of the songs are so consistent that I struggle to pick out a highlight. Maybe Embers, with its neat little post-chorus lead bit, or the comparatively upbeat Window, with its almost post-punky and Solkyri-esque guitar interplay. To some degree, I feel like the band sounds better when they let up on the sadness a little, but too many songs like these probably would’ve thrown off the flow of the album.
Overall, it’s a good album. To post-rock and emo fans alike – go give it a listen.
Sallowed is out now and can be purchased here.