After two full-length albums and an EP, Gleemer have crafted a unique aesthetic. There’s a reason people simply tweet “gleemer” and fans get it: the band’s name is as much evocative of a sound—the glistening guitars that brighten the group’s otherwise dark, ruminative songs—as it is a visual style—nocturnal, impressionistic portraits, where, again, glimpses of brightness color an otherwise darkened image. On Down Through, Gleemer does not stray from this style, producing another, well, gleemery record—a series of night-dwelling songs saturated in gauzy static and laden with anxiety. This album both feels and sounds heavy, befitting this pandemic summer’s unrelenting humidity and pervasive sense of dread. For these reasons, Down Through can be both an exhilarating and exhausting listen.
When at their best, Gleemer create songs whose rich textures produce an immersive, compelling experience. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than the opener “Brush Back,” where dense waves of static surge in and out, threatening to swallow the listener in sound, while lead singer Corey Coffman’s clear, sonorous voice creates an almost palpable sense of intimacy. All the while, the song refuses to sit still; it rises and falls fluidly (without a clear verse-chorus-verse structure announcing its next move), building tension when the noise drops off and catharsis when it reemerges in unison with hypnotic chiming guitars. The song stands alongside “Gauze” and “Basketball Casino,” Gleemer’s other superb openers, as one of Gleemer’s best works, finding the sweet spot between wistful, meditative shoegaze and full-throttle rock-n-roll.
But while this aesthetic sounds fresh and invigorating at the onset of the album, it grows tiring midway through. The songs start to blur and sometimes even retread the same sounds. For instance, the vocal delivery on the climax to “Leadings On” (when Coffman sings “I’d have lied to pass down”) sounds just like the powerful conclusion to closer “Down Through” (“You’re alive and that’s all”), attenuating the drama of both.
The album’s songs not only draw from the same sonic palette but also are marked by a lyrical impressionism, which, again, is sometimes a strength but eventually can feel insubstantial, giving the listener little meaning to latch onto and allowing the similar-sounding and similar-feeling songs to bleed into one another. On “TTX,” Coffman lists a series of vivid images—”Pooling like the blood around my knuckles / Or the lake around your parents’ house / Or the cut along your eyelid”—that, like a feed of caption-less Instagram images, can individually evoke a response but do not coalesce into some deeper meaning. Other times, the lyrics are even more opaque; note how the refrain to “Brush Back” rests all its meaning on two vague pronouns, “It’s a nervous thing / Hell, it’s on my mind,” while the chorus to “Spread Out” is similarly undefined: “I’ve been meaning to start it for too long,” Like their shoegaze brethren, Gleemer encourage listeners to graft their own meaning onto these songs, but while this push for introspection is initially rewarding, I eventually find myself longing for some direction, a clearer narrative arc.
Although the middle of Down Through can become muddled, it closes with a bang with “Down Through,” which begins gently (if characteristically downtrodden) and patiently builds into a massive wall-of-sound climax, ending the album thunderously. This sequencing of Down Through, with its dazzling introduction and explosive finale, makes its very gleemer album art all the more fitting: like many fireworks displays, the initial dopamine rush and the final crescendos leave the lasting effects, while the mind tends to wander somewhere in between the two.
This mix of sublime and skippable is unfortunately a trend of Down Through’s producer, Will Yip, whose affinity for dissonant shoegaze made him a natural collaborator for Gleemer. In many ways, Down Through recalls other recent Yip efforts—Pianos Become the Teeth’s Wait for Love and mewithoutYou’s [Untitled] come immediately to mind—where the singles are staggeringly beautiful and hallmarks of each band’s discographies, but the album’s middles drag, containing some of the most unremarkable, inessential songs from these two otherwise extraordinary bands. Like those albums, Down Through deserves to be heard and has reasons to be loved, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Like a fireworks display obscured by trees, a different perspective could have made all the difference.