|Art by Nate Burns|
So this is the part of the review where I need to tell you what sub- or sub-sub-genre this album belongs to so you can decide whether you hate it or not and move along accordingly. But Eight Bells' newest, Landless, presents that problem I'm always happy to have: an album that exists in its own little universe. Gun to my head, I'd say it's a mix of doom and psychedelia, but it's not typical of either of those.
As on their last album, The Captain's Daughter, Melynda Jackson handles guitar and vocals and Haley Westeiner is on bass and vocals, but they're now joined by Rae Amitay (see also, Immortal Bird, Thrawsunblat) on drums. Landless may be a step down in heaviness from The Captain's Daughter--although you'll still find some choice outbreaks of vocal and percussive violence--but it's several steps up in composition and songwriting. The songs all have a familial resemblance to each other, but without falling into the trap of being repetitive. There's a melodic sensibility that weaves through all the songs, and it's a sensibility that all the instruments carry.
The riffs alone are a masterclass in theme and variations. Jackson throws out a riff, then revisits it as a tremolo version, or a staccato version. Sometimes the band lets a song break completely, like "Hating" at the five-minute mark, but bits and pieces of the song's main themes float through the ambient section, riding on the bass and distant drum swells. Remember how I said this album isn't typical of doom or psych? This is the place where that line is drawn. There's some trippy stuff happening here, but it's not some jam band's 17-minute-long free-jazz exploration or an endless doomy slog. Likewise, the slow build in the album's longest track, "Landless," is just the right amount of anticipation before the screaming/blasting/tremolo explosion. And you'd be hard-pressed to find an earworm as persistent as the delightfully off-kilter riff in "Hold My Breath" from most pop bands, let alone a doom or psych outfit
Jackson and Westeiner's chant-like vocals, sometimes in unison, sometimes harmonized, sometimes drifting apart completely, adds an ethereal vibe to the proceedings. In a way, the album feels like a 40-minute-long meditation, or maybe a soundtrack that's broken free of its movie, insisting on being front and center. It might put you in mind of a lot of different things, but in the end, it's weird, engaging, lovely, and brilliant.