- Belly Up, Haven
In 2017, Burlington rock band Belly Up released Loss, an EP laden with desperation and defeat. The world has only gotten more dire in the five years since and shows no signs of reversing the trend. Yet the title of the group's new LP, Haven, indicates some sense of respite. What makes its members feel safe? Whatever it is, it's baked somewhere into the album's 15 tracks.
Though Haven's lyrics hint at possibilities, maybe the answer isn't to be found there. The album more aptly conveys a sense of finding sanctuary nonverbally through composition and atmosphere. Leisurely, turbid and intensely captivating, Belly Up's slowcore anthems are bleak, but they have a fullness that satisfies an ineffable emptiness in the collective unconscious.
Hefty and abrasive, the band's songs are full of sledgehammer chords and earsplitting drums. Those dominant elements smash into each other like souped-up cars in a slow-motion demolition derby. Yet vocalist Alex Curtis' phrases are restrained and distant, as if he's hanging back about a foot from the mic. He doesn't come off as shy so much as sensitively approaching a fragile listener.
The feedback tunnel of 35-second opener "Begin" blows apart as the subsequent track, "No Purpose," comes to life. The plodding tune lingers on loss, with Curtis' and Stephen Sharp's guitars acting as wailing death knells.
Next, the album's pulse quickens as its title track arrives. Rooting the song in the band's hometown, Curtis sings, "Every light on Battery / Flickers on and off / The lake is a haven / Or maybe a grave..." Everyone who lives in the Champlain Valley has associations with the majestic body of water; not all align with the visions of Vermont's tourism industry.
"Sun Dream" is less claustrophobic than the preceding tracks. It emphasizes bassist Logan Bouchard's syrupy licks, which evaporate slowly in a capacious sonic space. Drummer Ben Lau punches through the vacuum with oomph, ratcheting up the song's energy as it eventually peaks with fuzzed-out fervor.
Experimentalism seeps into Haven's crevices, and not just in the five instrumental segues between several tracks. "Any Way You Want It" is a sprawling post-rock odyssey full of distortion and angst. Like subliminal messages, cryptic spoken-word segments float in and out, their meaning obscured behind vocal effects and layers of echoes.
Belly Up sharpen their ideas on Haven — ironically, by loosening up a bit. Their production choices led them into a more softly focused and aesthetically muddy mode than the five-song Loss. But the vibe they curate on the new album is grand and cohesive.
Haven is available at bellyupvt.bandcamp.com.