I’ve been keenly following the progress of Black Doldrums since first seeing them way down the bill at a psych fest in 2017; since then they have carved out a niche all of their own and picked up a committed live following. With their signing to psych/post punk big hitters Fuzz Club records and the addition of a bass player to the live line up to complement Kevin Gibbard (guitars and vocals) and Sophie Landers (drums) they have risen to another level. Previous EP releases were dense layered affairs loaded with reverb and fuzz and looping into oblivion– rewarding those who dived into the sound and listened deeply. With the digital only pandemic era release of the ‘Metempsychosis’ remixes they fully revealed the hidden depths of their tracks and they continue that journey on their debut album ‘Dead Awake’. It’s stripped down and cleaned up with the subtler touches being allowed to shine through; they’ve been through a metamorphosis and emerged into post-punk territory, fully unlocking the gothic undercurrent that was always there. Through all the evolution and adaptation there are still remnant psychedelic flourishes and a recognisable Black Doldrums sound.
The windswept and visionary ‘Sad Paradise’ kicks off the album and sets the tone; driving and pulsing with a drum style that I’d recognise anywhere. ‘Into Blue’ is quite simply a beautiful song, faraway and poignant, guitars both desolate and angelic.
Along with ‘All For You’ it shows a poetic and darkly romantic side to the band; epic songs delivered in short bursts that leave you wanting more. In contrast ‘Dreamcatcher’ and album closer ‘Sidewinder’ are the boiled down and resurrected essence of the ‘old’ Black Doldrums, crossing the divide between the original incarnation and the new version – hints of expansive psychedelia immersed in grinding riffs. ‘Now You Know This’ is something totally different; lyrics that deal with contemporary injustice while the music spirals off into the distant past with a ritualistic pagan folk lilt, guitars churning away in deep time. There’s an earthy firelit glimmer to the whole song.
The entire album is a triumph with not a weak moment on it; it feels carefully crafted – lean, hungry and cool with a real bite to the production. It conjures an epic quality, at times with a raw rock ‘n’ roll undertow, at others crystalline, textured and haunting. It hits that melancholy gothic sweet spot of being brooding and uplifting at the same time.
I’ve always thought that Fuzz Club was the obvious and natural home for Black Doldrums so this feels like it was meant to be. They’ve got some momentum going now and there’s plenty more to come; hopefully we won’t have to wait long for the next fix. You certainly don’t need to wait long to see them play ‘Dead Awake’ live; an extensive UK tour is happening in the coming months. They are a powerful live force and their gigs always have a great communal atmosphere, don’t miss out!
Buy the album here.