We are not in a pop crisis. There is no shortage of woozy, babbling-brook-ish, touch-of-R&B pop tunes. It’s nearly impossible to track exactly where the sound started from, but it’s been recycled and rewarped ad nauseum, with footing in late ’80s twee acts like Talulah Gosh, Heavenly and Tiger Trap; later evolving under the noses of bands like Camera Obscura, Phantogram and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. It’s very possibly nearing full capacity. That’s why this is a difficult (read: saturated) landscape in which to drop a debut LP of an even slightly similar aesthetic, because it runs the very real risk of existing only in a state of comparison to others.
And yet there’s something about U.K. trio Fear Of Men’s first full-length effort that bucks against that. Maybe it’s because Jessica Weiss’s syrupy vocals bubble beneath the surface, suggesting shadowy agitation. Maybe it’s because guitarist Daniel Falvey and percussionist Michael Miles provide instrumentation that’s in a unique state of pressurization—with any simple guitar chord or drum fill, you’re left with the inevitable feeling that something’s going to snap.
Take the album’s opening one-two punch. The minimal intro, Alta, starts softly with whispered vocals and without percussion. Weiss sings as if telling secrets in the dark, then strings and drums drop in as Waterfall begins and suspense builds. That suspense holds throughout the album. Vitrine is one of Loom‘s stand-outs, because it moves with a brooding confidence built out of unexpected jazz syncopation and marching band snare flickers. Album single Luna is still pleasant; washed-out harmonies and guitars like rippling water float through lyrics like, “I tried my best to destroy you but the waves/Keep overflowing me/Washing me out ’till I’m empty.”
It makes sense there are so many water references on Loom, because almost every song recalls stagnant, dark blue puddles, tear-shaped diamond melodies, and bright river rushes of instrumentation following low-tide lulls. Fear Of Men manages to work this watery flow into crashing choral moments (Seer), jittery tidal changes (Descent) and gently lapping vocals (Inside).
Though the pure, dripping niceness of the album can start to feel dusty after a while, the constant effect of washing prevents that. And the previously mentioned below-the-surface agitation comes to a head at the end of the six-minute Inside. The drums run out of breath and the guitars crash around in a vocal tornado until the track flows into the final song, Atla. And Atla is like opener Alta, cutting out all the excess like a memory-suck, leading you to believe the overwhelming instrumentation you just heard was merely in your imagination, and Loom is nothing but pretty.