Drowse is the project of Kyle Bates, a musician I’ve known about since his days of playing in the band Sloths. When he announced the project and first released music, it seemed like everyone was on board. This is probably due to the fact that it is his most personal endeavor, rooted in his own struggles with bipolar disorder and self-medication. Emphasizing the ephemeral nature of music, he employs revolving lineups ranging from solo to a full band.
He also continues to present his music in the context of which it is made. This album was recorded mostly alone, after Bates’ artistic residence in Iceland. He has been very forthcoming about where the music is coming from, and it makes it that much easier to identify with.
Light Mirror is the second Drowse full-length on The Flenser, a label known for its eclectic, underground aesthetic. It is perhaps Drowse’s most earnest work yet, an album of uncanny honesty and melancholy. The record opens up with “Imposter Syndrome,” which sounds more like a cinematic sci-fi interlude than the usual gaze-induced slowcore and noise rock.
Creeping static worms its way to the forefront of the mix, surrounding rhythmic synth variations. It is a daring step into the unknown, and one that the title suggests is true to himself but with the fear that he’s trying to be something he’s not. It is an incongruous contrast to the next song, the single titled “Between Fence Posts” where Bates’ vocals hover above washed out guitars and a subtle violin and trudge on slowly to a simple beat.
Whispered vocals hum straightforward, spacious lyrics. Any fan of My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive would gravitate towards the reverb-drenched guitars, the glossy synths, and light backing vocals from Bates’ frequent collaborator Maya Stoner.
While Light Mirror may be the most diverse Drowse record so far, it is relatively cohesive overall. Heavy guitars give way to soft ones. Build ups crescendo into ambient synth passages on “Shower Pt.2,” glitch-y production on “Bipolar 1,” and a brooding-yet-almost-danceable beat on “Physical World.” There are lo-fi instrumentals and interludes. In particular, the guitars and recorded sample in the bridge of “Betty” are quite nice.
There are no problems with the songwriting or the production. Bates recorded it himself and mixed it, while Nicholas Wilbur mastered the record. It is dense and grainy when it wants to be and richly clear when it wants to be. I do wish, though, that the guitars would drive more. The sci-fi synth interludes stand out amongst the rest of the album, and the acoustic guitar parts can sound a little clumsy. The vocals are foggy and quiet at times, but the style is forgiving.
Above all, Light Mirror’s best attributes are that it’s rooted in honesty. You can hear the chill and the somberness and the self-imposed isolation of Bates’ winter in Iceland. You can hear the rooms the songs were composed in. You can hear the age of the acoustic guitar. You can hear the emotion with which it was composed, and this earnestly charms you, allowing you to look past its imperfections and appreciate its beauty.