Album Review: Cloakroom - Time Well

Twenty years after Failure accidentally created the genre ‘space rock’ on Fantastic Planet, if you are looking for a band worthy enough to be named the heir to the throne, look no further than the Indiana based trio Cloakroom.

Arriving over two years after their auspicious debut Further Out, Cloakroom have returned with Time Well, a dense and lengthy effort that seamlessly blends space rock and stoner metal (and maybe emo too, depending on who you ask) to create an otherworldly sound that wears its influences on its sleeves, but is clever enough to be refreshing, original, and thought provoking.

One of the most impressive things about Cloakroom as a group, as well as Time Well, is the dynamic they manage to strike—finding that fine line between heavy and melodic. And it’s a balance they manage to find right out of the gate on the pummeling, woozy opening track, “Gone But Not Entirely.” Beginning with a steady yet muffled, tape-hiss laden rhythm courtesy of drummer Brian Busch, the song really kicks into gear as the dreamy and fuzzed out guitar and bass arrive and intertwine, and singer Doyle Martin’s half-mumbled, somber sounding vocals float in, getting stuck somewhere in between all those layers.

Production value wise, Cloakroom are still favoring a nearly lo-fi, ramshackle, and unhinged soundscape, but there is more clarity in the mixing on Time Well when compared to its predecessor. It’s also obvious that the group has spent time huddled around a copy of Fantastic Planet—both “Gone But Not Entirely” and “Big World” boasts a similar aesthetic to the one Ken Andrews achieved in 1996, and the effort to recreate that sound and feeling is admirable.

As Time Well continues, it becomes clear that the band has assembled a nearly flawless first half—Cloakroom finds an unexpected, menacing groove “Concrete Gallery,” and turns up the fuzz on the snarling “Seedless Star.”

Things don’t necessarily fall apart on the second half of Time Well, but they certainly change pace. Not that Cloakroom ever play with speed, but things slow down to a sludgy crawl on the eerie spiritual “Hymnal,” which for some reason, reminds me of grunge rock in the mid 1990s—specifically of Alice in Chains.

Acoustic guitars make surprising appearances on both “The Sun Won’t Let Us Go,” as well as the titular track, again, changing up the pacing slightly, as well as the heavy, dark atmosphere; but fear not, that bleak shadow returns on the on the somber, plaintive dirge “52Hz Whale,” a song that opens with some more impressive production tricks before it really kicks in.

Time Well concludes with its lengthiest track, “The Passenger.” Beginning harmlessly enough, it grows and grows until you are practically drowning in a torrential downpour of roaring, fuzzed out bass and guitar. By the end, the song descends into experimentation, as it spends its final two minutes hypnotizing you with a loop of heavily effected drums and ringing guitar string plucks—the choice to conclude “The Passenger” in this fashion is slightly reminiscent of Failure as well; the song “Wet Gravity,” from their 1994 album Magnified ends in a similar way.

Time Well is not a perfect album, but I’ll tell ya—it’s pretty darn close. For a relatively young band (they formed in 2012) Cloakroom has certainly come into their own and grown into a sound quickly and gracefully. Time Well is a huge leap forward for the band, both in terms of songwriting—yes, despite how heavy these tunes are, there are still noticeable hooks in many of them—as well as building a sound that both stays true to the band’s roots and influences but is also unafraid to experiment.

Even with how heavy and dense Time Well may come across as at first glance, the most surprising thing about it is just how accessible it really is; for fans of metal, shoegaze, and indie rock, Cloakroom have managed to create a remarkable, rewarding listen from beginning to end.

Time Well is out now via Relapse Records.