Year of release: 2016
After the premature disillusion of Sacramento, Ca outfit Darling Chemicalia; who, by the way, encapsulated the kind of dark melodic rock n' roll we so desperately need these days, there was a possibility that vocalist/guitarist/mastermind Ian Bone might go back to the lo-fi bedroom pop of his 2009 solo effort Ghost Sketch. However, collaborating with drummer Justin Gonzales, guitarist Andrew Henderson, and keyboardist/vocalist Stephine Bone seemed to encourage a push outward into a more dynamic sound rather than a retreat inward. Though Darling Chemicalia dabbled in drone, shoegaze, and 90's-tinged alt rock, they were at heart a pop band. Of course, their take on pop music was decidedly unnerving; with lo-fi production, wailing vocals, and heavy reverb carrying the day, but if one was truly willing to listen, catchy hooks and pop-oriented melodies were bubbling just underneath the distorted surface.
Now, Ian Bone has reteamed with Gonzales and Henderson under the Grave Lake moniker for a 5-song EP which initially positions itself as a post-Chemicalia project, but in actuality, diverges from the former band in a few significant ways. For one thing, the new outfit have done away with the Swans-inspired dirges and atmospheric interludes of Chemicalia in lieu of going right for the uptempo jugular. For another, there's a lightness of touch to the songwriting here, even as the lyrical concerns still tilt toward the macabre, which gives the tunes a harmonious quality. Tracks like opener "Traneberg Bridge", with it's wall of noisy feedback bursting into a skittering drumbeat, shimmering guitar arpeggios, and Bone's high-pitched vocals, is a good indication of the sonic onslaught which will follow. There's also sing-along post-punk ("Mantra"), lurching alt-rock ("Haunt"), driving melodicism with warbly vocals ("Woven"), and best of all, explosive guitar soloing and shrieked repetitive choruses ("Seer").
Additionally, superb production by Andy Morin (of Death Grips fame), deftly gives Bone's unique singing higher presence in the mix (as opposed to Chemicalia's burying of vocals under reverb), while also allowing space for Gonzales and Henderson to create dynamic performances of their own. Henderson in particular shines here, layering melodic riffs and sugary guitar lines in a manner not dissimilar to his work with now defunct Sacto post-punkers G. Green. The results are a brief but rewarding collection of songs which speaks to Grave Lake's strengths at conjuring their own version of noisily contorted pop music.