Room 1985 – The Bliss – Album Review
Always got time in my day for the UK-based post/psych-rockers in Room 1985! Checking this one out in advance and stoked to do so – you can cop yourself a copy on August 10th coming up, just around the corner. For now, you’ll just have to take my word on what I’m hearing…but hey, that’s why you’re here.
If you remember way back when to earlier this year in February, you probably remember a glowing review ranting and raving about the intense ideas and stunning execution happening in Room 1985 – to have’em back already is more than awesome and just fine by me thank-you very much. For a debut album, their self-titled record was off-the-charts cool and far beyond any reasonable expectation of a new band busting out into the scene. It shouldn’t have been TOO surprising I suppose…they are on the Analogue Trash label…that place is synonymous with quality when it comes to music and if Room 1985 is hangin’ with them, rest assured, they’ve been vetted for awesomeness & definitely possess the goods.
According to Chris Crysand (Guitars, Synth, Backing Vocals) – “The Bliss concept album starts with a story that is based on the addiction to social media and the impact this has to a couple living together. They ignore each other in real life while claiming to be happy in the virtual world – a common situation here in 2018. The story takes a stark turn as aliens invade Earth, conquering the planet and changing the whole basis of human society using social media to view individual worth rather than people’s actual characteristics and personality.” I’m not going to argue that trying to follow along with their bouncing ball is anything close to resembling a straight line from A-to-B, but musically, you’ll love what you hear; if you like to dig deeper into your concept records & ponder the storyline driving them, there ya have it. I obviously don’t want to accuse Room 1985 of going all Stephen King on us and resolving the issue by introducing a monster at the end…or in this case, space aliens…so I’ll assume they believe in this theory. And heck, maybe they’re right…about most if not all of it; while I don’t know about the aliens part for a complete certainty, I can at least raise my hand to the fact that yes, the beginnings of this description of what life is like in our world right now are fairly apt and largely apply to me. I can relate to this concept; though perhaps not for its most redeeming qualities…I’m probably better off preparing a meal for my new galactic overlord in hopes it’ll please them & that I’ll be one of the few to be spared and not smote.
Main point being, there’s a valid snapshot of society here and a perspective that many of you will share either by observation, or by the fact that you’re living this way yourself, right at this very moment. To go with that ominous fact, you get an ominous beginning, as The Bliss begins, and “Daylight” takes shape. Dig the whispers, dig the opening crunch of the guitars amongst the dreamier melodies invading the atmosphere, dig the way this band continues to display such intense musicianship & skill through such smart transitions in sound, weaving in & out of the loud/quiet dynamic with ease. Most notably perhaps, for those following Room 1985, you’ll notice the presence of a bold new voice in the mix, which belongs to Sam Stone (Vocals, Bass) – and this dude has got some seriously rad qualities to his voice & sound, along with a set of unique ideas that definitely help to add to the band’s sound overall. Together, they find this like, electro-inspired sound that swirls & flows as it envelops the space, and then Stone starts to kick the cut into high-gear with a nearly Perry Farrell style performance on the mic to add in the memorable vocal hooks. There’s more parts than you can count on one hand, but essentially two halves in a way…the first half of “Daylight” opens your eyes, the second half blasts you awake. Hopefully. I suppose that’s the intent behind the concept really…maybe if we can somehow shake ourselves from the collective sleep our society slumbers so peacefully in, aliens won’t eat us…or like, use us for farming or breeding or butt-stuff or whatever it is they’ve got planned for us. Solid progression in “Daylight” really gets this track moving and the bulk of its fireworks come ripping through that second half; love the long ringing-out of the crunchy guitar distortion and the abrupt snap back into the main hooks…the fullness of their sound…Room 1985 creates a bold beginning on The Bliss with “Daylight.”
The title-track of the record really throws their new singer right into the spotlight – a smart move early on in the lineup to maximize his impact and Sam takes this moment to the absolute limits & beyond. The synth rhythms of this cut are absolutely deadly, the brilliant effects on the vocals give the entire track one of the most wicked breakdowns you’ll hear this year mid-song before it comes back scorching into a guitar solo that continually stands out as one of the absolute best you’ll hear on the record. Chris deserves a freakin’ award for the bold tones and perfect parts he finds in that moment during the fourth minutes or so. Sam proves to be seriously versatile and massively dynamic – you can hear he’d be capable of covering anything from the aforementioned Farrell to like, Bono without a single hiccup – that’s one hell of a widespread range. On “The Bliss” you can hear just how much of a clean vocal sound this dude would be capable of – they choose to dirty him up a bit & give him a wilder sound with the added effects, which is likely a good move. You want a great singer with capabilities like Sam, but it’s still essential that he becomes a fit for the entire sound & scope of Room 1985’s ambitions & vision for their style…seems like they’ve already figured that out by the way they’ve approached “The Bliss.” That opening snap into the intensity around forty-five seconds is worth the price of admission on its own; the way they smooth it all out and add in my favorite guest performance on the record with Emily Oldfield’s spoken-word is like filling in that final piece of the puzzle to make this song perfectly complete. Stone’s performance is extremely strong here every time he’s called upon, taking the hooks to the next-level with an inspired & fresh energy that contrasts brilliantly with the robotic & colder delivery you find in what Emily’s doing. And then like…I still don’t exactly know what’s creating that nearly vocal-like presence in the music, but that’s got just as much character as the song’s two main vocalists – so credit to the O.G. members of Room 1985 cause they’ve got a lot to live up to when it comes to the performances that Emily and Sam put in on “The Bliss.” Killer ending…the whole track has a Minus The Bear like vibe, infused with the most bombastic & raw moments of U2…it’s unique, I can get behind this. Bottom line is every player & voice involved on this cut absolutely brought it at every moment – you’d be surprised at how often the title-track becomes a big giant miss or mistake on most albums out there due to the pressure imposed by getting that opus-magnum dialed-in perfectly, but Room 1985 nails it.
“Attention Seeker” is a serious mover! Aside from the occasional sample being thrown in to inform you about what social media’s all about, they hardly slow this cut down an inch and keep the energy up at all times. Musically, it’s as aces as you’d expect from Room 1985 – they’re not the type to make mistakes and they certainly bring their A-game with them everywhere there’s enough juice for them to plug in. Vocally, I suspect this cut presents a few challenges in comparison to some of the other tunes on The Bliss – I think you get some highlight moments from Sam but also a few confused ones that sound like he’s making choices in direction & tone on the fly somewhat, but nothing too detrimental to stop ya from listening. For what it’s worth, I felt like featured guest MOI SAINT had a few questionable moments of her own as well – I dig the significant amount of texture she’s got to her voice and I really liked the way they’ve used echo effects on her vocals at times…again, there’s moments of brilliance and a few moments where you question the direction or tone a little. What I STILL loved about both of the singers is that you can still hear the verifiable effort…none of it is for lack of trying; I think the song comes out a bit more confused than some of the others, but with the name “Attention Seeker,” perhaps that’s part of the intentions…that scattered & flailing sound trying to flag us down from every direction, like each instrument provides its own click-bait for the ears. It’s definitely digging harder into that disconnect caused by social-media and real-life…which is another whole essay in itself if I’m gonna dive into that topic…but I appreciate the perspective they’re putting forth here, even if it somewhat invalidates like, you know, my whole existence and everything, NBD Room 1985, N…B…D. “Attention Seeker” asks important questions and points out relevant pitfalls that the human-race is falling into. Concept-wise, I felt like “Attention Seeker” was one of the cuts that definitely gives you one of the clearest glimpses into what it is that Room 1985 is looking to communicate with The Bliss – so pay attention! As far as MOI SAINT goes – when she’s in the mix with Sam over the final minute or so, that’s 100% awesome right there and where this collaboration is hitting the mark big-time – they sound fantastic when combined & the end of “Attention Seeker” brings this track to the next-level once more.
LISTEN to this band will ya? “Ishtar” is as damn good as it gets. I absolutely LOVE the guitars in this cut and how Chris brings that post-rock element to the music, loved the vocals in every form they showed up from the avant-garde hooks to the brilliant spoken-word narrative that runs through so much of this tune, buried just slightly into the mix, making each word tough to catch but completely ear-catching. They get altogether gnarly throughout this cut, the solos mid song are unreal, so thick, so phat, so meaty, so SATISFYING and sonically awesome! Stand-out guitars all the way through “Ishtar” from Chris, relentless thunder from John Hulse (Drums, Electro-Drums, Percussion) pounding it out, and a structure that’s both ambitious and compelling to listen to. Undeniably progressive, experimental, metal, post-rock…I mean…it’s pretty much ALL here in this one tune! Supreme melodies, killer execution, bold, intense sounds, and an audio-adventure that really takes you somewhere – “Ishtar” is a sample of Room 1985 crushing it like only this band really can. Loved the spoken-word, that initial crunch around the first minute mark is freakin’ IMMACULATE, and again, Room 1985 is making an impact through the brilliant use of layering and interaction between the instrumentation, ideas, concepts, & themes. As many times as I spun this record, I kept coming back to “Ishtar” as my most likely favorite – no disrespect to Sam, who I believe would be driving the bass on this cut but not featured on the vocals here, I’m just a fan of really, really great spoken-word tracks and they’re so freakin’ RARE, that’s all. I think Sam’s a great singer and he’s been kicking ass thus far…he gets a moment to musician it up here on “Ishtar” with his homies in Room 1985 and take a breather…the music of this cut is beyond awesome, the samples of female vocals are absolutely brilliant…not sure if that’s Emily again or not, but I absolutely loved what was happening on this song from beginning to end, vocally, musically, it’s 100%.
It might not make me the most popular man in the room, but I really dig what they’ve got going on with “Snowy White.” Don’t get me wrong…it ain’t a single, and chances are, it ain’t gonna be the song that you initially notice on The Bliss – but I’d be willing to bet it’s one that you’ll come back to and really get into over those subsequent spins through the record. It reminds me a lot of some of the songs you’d find on I Mother Earth’s album The Quicksilver Meat Dream – but they’re also mixing in a really odd layer of like, 80’s ‘something-in-the-air’ mystique into this track as well. I’ll fully admit…I think that there are moments of “Snowy White” where they might have wanted to examine this one a bit further – I dig the hypnotic vibe that this track slips into and the supremely clever jazzy background layers that creep into the mix & brighten up the sound…but in terms of retaining our attention willingly as opposed to holding onto it the way they do here…I dunno. I’m on the fence with this particular cut more than any other on the album…I feel like “Snowy White” is a good song…but I kinda feel like the surrounding songs have the extra oomph to get noticed a bit more quickly while the lethargic grind of “Snowy White” might hold this one back slightly in comparison to the others. Like, I’d potentially open-up a show with a track like “Snowy White” – maybe hit that switch and lunge right into “The Arrival” just like it happens here at this point back-to-back on the record. Very much of a Jane’s Addiction vibe going on in the mystical atmosphere of this tune…the sound hangs in the air and clings to your bones firmly. If anything, I think I felt like I enjoyed the verse of “Snowy White” maybe more than its chorus…they both have their own directions and styles…suppose I just felt like the verse had a bit more life in its veins.
But like…daaaaaaaaaaamn right? The sound of the beginning of “The Arrival” will blow your nuts right off or at the very least send a hot breeze storming through your lady-parts. Room 1985 comes out booming with resounding authority on “The Arrival,” assisted by the dramatic vocal performance from Vickie Harley. I think a lot of Vickie’s performance really shows you just how much further out this band was looking to branch their sound out this time around on their second album; it definitely adds something new to the dimensions of Room 1985’s sound and I feel like Vickie gives her all to her performance – that being said, I wasn’t always sold on the collaboration here as a complete fit. I found my favorite moments from Vickie were the vocalizations outside of the actual words, where her voice was free to soar its farthest into the atmosphere – she sounds great in those part and good in the others. That beginning though! Good lord! “The Arrival” just pounds and scorches the earth from the moment it starts, quickly blasting you into intergalactic space-sounds and synths firing-off in the mix as this sonic adventure continues. And so SHOULD the beginning of “The Arrival” sound like Armageddon is coming, shouldn’t it? It begins! Sam’s vocal performance on this cut works well, I dig the emotion he’s put into the words and how they communicated the desolate despair behind their meanings; in contrast though, I felt like Vickie might have pushed this one right over the top at times…hard to say for sure. I really appreciate the boldness of her style…and I mean, she gives a nearly opera-esque performance that’s full of genuine technique…I wouldn’t fault her at all, I just found it to be an odd pairing somewhat. I loved the sound of the breaking news coming through “The Arrival” in real-time, that was a rad aspect of “The Arrival” as well…I was a little on the fence about it, but like anything that Room 1985 seems to create, there are so many moments worth listening to in every composition that even at half-mast I’d take what this band has to offer over 95% of what’s out there…so there’s that.
“We’re adults, right?” – “The Tentacles Of The Oz” asks perhaps the most important question of the album and of our generation in general right there. I’m thirty-eight and going on about twelve in my mind, so I’m at a complete disadvantage when it comes to giving them an answer, I just know what sounds good – and this track is 100% awesomeness. “The Tentacles Of The Oz” explores some seriously wild sonic frequencies and stunning guitar sounds. At least…I think they’re guitars? Could be keyboards…hmm…probably IS keyboards…but like, played with an expert hand and bending those tones like you would the strings of a guitar? You know the best thing about good food is that you don’t necessarily need to know what’s in the mix to know it tastes amazing – I feel the same way about this track, maybe this band in general actually. I don’t always know how they do what they do, but man do I like hearing it, you feel me? “The Tentacles Of The Oz” has some really incredible ideas in the low-end, rumbling and bouncing through the atmosphere while the brighter synth layers stretch out over-top. The discover multiple moments along this adventure in sound where they find success through the way these different aspects of their instrumentation intersect, move, and change together. Listen to a spot like around the four-minute mark and you’ll hear how they make that decision to shift, sometimes just slightly, sometimes full-on, but when it’s time to come together, they do it with ease. Word on the street is that this crew is gonna be jumping out there on stage a ton this year; it’s the ability to pull moves that like off while they’re up there that’ll make a major impact and provide the punch in their dynamics overall. You watch the wild solos, you hear the players move into their moment in the spotlight and seize their moment – but when the time comes for them to unite and move the song towards that next-level, they’ll be right there and at the ready to do so. Songs & structures like “The Tentacles Of The Oz” confirm stuff like this…you can hear they’ve got the chops & talent to make these imaginative compositions come roaring to life…& long may they run. Very Steve Vai like moments in the way these sounds move…which is part of why part of me still believes a lot of the awesomeness I’m hearing COULD be guitar…but it could be keys…I think it’s guitar…nah…gotta be keys…I…I…I actually really don’t know – but sonically, there’s a similarity to the infamous axe-man’s music and the way these notes slide around with their supersonic frequencies towards the end of the song that I think you can notice. WHATEVER is making all that blissful noise, I don’t even CARE – I just want to LISTEN to it ALL DAMN DAY. Ambitious tune, but a clever one that brings progressive-psych into an electro-inspired realm that has a ton of crossover appeal that would draw in anyone from EDM fans to the Rock crowd.
They end The Bliss with “Awake” – another fantastic track for John’s drums and Sam’s vocals…Chris has always got something goin’ on, that’s just a given at this point. I think Sam does a great job of displaying that potential he’s got and the capabilities that secured him a spot in this lineup at the same time; he could fit in with The Editors or fit in with U2 – you see what I mean? That’s another widespread set of sounds between the two singers in those bands and Sam’s clearly capable of taking his tones in either direction. He’s great low-down – but the biggest moments of “Awake” also have him sounding at his absolute best in my opinion; when this guy cranks up the energy, style, swagger, and rhythm in his performance throughout the latter half of this tune, you can’t help but hear he’s saved some real highlights for this finale. KILLER sound on “Awake” – like honestly, there are SO MANY components, aspects, elements, parts, and movements in a Room 1985 structure that it will often make your head spin. They’re in full control over that revolution and how much they want to dizzy us; it can lead them towards the deep end with harder concepts to follow like “Snowy White,” or it can show us how they’ve got a master’s grip on their wildest ideas through the execution of a song like “Awake.” Awesome use of ambience & samples at the beginning of “Awake” – the opening verse takes a bit of an adjustment to absorb, given that the vocals come out sounding completely different than anywhere else you’ll find them on the album…but after a moment or two, it all starts to come clear and make sense as you tune in to where Room 1985 is taking this final track on The Bliss. Love that switch in the sound heading towards 2:45 – one of the strongest highlights for Sam’s vocals and the writing in the melodies on this record, and a killer lead-in to the breakdown before the imaginative & colorful solos take this song into the stratosphere. By the time you’re four-minutes in, you’re completely enveloped in blissful sound from head to toe, because it is POURING through your speakers. Sam takes hold of the mic with confidence as he leads them into the fifth-minute of “Awake,” pumping out some of his strongest notes and soaring into the music perfectly. With a screaming call to ‘wake up’ – they launch into the low-key vocal tones and give this track an Editors-like subtle charm & relentless rumble, speeding to the end in slow motion. The ending of The Bliss is KILLER…so many ideas pay off soundly on “Awake” and it definitively ends the record in a way that absolutely has you wanting more.
Get those listens in before the aliens get ya. You’ve been warned.
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