Loom isn’t the album experimental musician and producer Katie Gately intended to make. At the time of her mother’s diagnosis of a rare destructive cancer, she was close to finishing an entirely different album. However, she quickly recognized that she “didn’t have the bandwidth to make that record anymore.” So, she returned to her Brooklyn family home and completely recreated the album around the 10-and-a-half-minute saga that deals with substance abuse, “Bracer,” which was her mother’s favorite track. Where her 2016 debut album, Color exhibited a frenzied and fierce listen, Loom reveals equally frantic textures and retains her debut’s display of melodic pop sensibilities. Although, this time around, her voice is front and center, atop harsh sound design.
Gately’s mother passed away in 2018. To convey the enormity of such a loss, she’s added real earthquake recordings and samples of further wreckage, such as peacocks screaming, wolves howling, pill bottles rattling, a machine gun going off, the take-off of a fighter jet airplane, a coffin shutting, and heavily processed audio from her parent’s wedding. The swiftness of her mother’s diagnosis and passing held an impending weight over Gately, and so Loom captures the bizarre nature of imminent doom, but also with some iridescent colors.
“Waltz” and “Bracer” are a pair. “They’re about the same thing, about being disoriented and wanting to check out with a substance,” Gately shared upon announcing Loom’s release. “I used whiskey.” The result is back-to-back triumphs that defy all expectations. “Waltz” is menacing in nature, reaching dizzying heights without an actual chorus. Her use of restraint serves “Waltz” beautifully. “Bracer” is equally non-traditional, sprawling, and creepy. “Bracer” is a journey of multiple movements, with a couple of repeated phrases (“Take my sin and shove it into yours,” “Beast gonna take your light away,” “I’m gonna hold my will to my heart”) signaling the next ominous sonic landscape. The final two minutes are pure chaos, acknowledging her own uneasiness. With mystifying epics like “Waltz” and “Bracer,” Gately sets a new bar for experimental music.
With “Allay” and “Tower,” Gately introduces another pair. Testing her creative limits, she speaks as aggressive cancer attacking her mother in “Allay,” while in “Tower,” she personifies the medicine fighting that same cancer. Her mother’s voice is in there, too, albeit processed. Haunting and overwhelming, “Allay” is relentless. Opening to layered choral laments, she then employs explosions, various gongs and synths to disorienting effect. “I am running through your streets/through your streets lives a beast,” she sings around a swirl of rushing earthquakes and shrieking animals. Led with further distant drums and gothic, in essence, “Tower” is entirely unsettling. Beginning with a recording of Gately’s mother’s voice and accompanied by a processed audio recording of her parents’ wedding, “Tower” builds until it bursts then falls straight back down.
Loom’s three interludes, “Ritual,” Rite” and “Rest” provide the necessary breathing room between intense bursts of anguish. Once again featuring earthquake and vocal samples, the trio help to outline the rest of the album. However, they’re split segments of one extended track, with pieces of “Rest” also featuring in “Flow.” In “Flow,” Gately keeps things simple. Well, as simple as her music can get. “But I won’t let you hate yourself no more,” she sings above church bells and an organ. Deeply layered and intricate, “Flow” is an ode sung in the perspective of her mother. It’s fitting that the final words on Loom are “choose light.” Ultimately, it’s a record of loss, but more importantly, it’s a record of finding closure when your entire world falls to pieces.
There’s nothing quite so cruel as sudden death. There’s never enough time. When Gately’s mother passed away, she huddled in bed, ate donuts, and slept for a month. As devastating as all forms of cancer are, the seconds spent saying goodbyes and even restoring relationships while your loved one still has time on this earth are the most cherished, unforgettable memories. Gately and her mother had those moments ripped from them. Loom is an astounding oeuvre of unnerving dynamics, raw expressions of mourning and innovative soundscapes. We may never know what the scrapped sophomore album could’ve held for Katie Gately or experimental electronic music. That’s fine by me, as Loom is an expansive, sometimes brittle, totally brilliant examination of grief.