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Album Review: Belly Up, 'Loss'


Published June 21, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.

Belly Up, Loss
  • Belly Up, Loss

(Self-released, digital download)

Everyone deals with death differently. For some, grief inspires self-destructive behavior; for others, introspection. Some, perhaps numb from pain, choose simply not to deal with it. And for others still, death instills a creative spark every bit as inspiring and profound as love or heartbreak or finding God. On their latest EP, Loss, Burlington's Belly Up address grief head-on, synthesizing sadness, anger, confusion and guilt through a sonic maelstrom as thunderous and gloomy as it is beautiful.

The dirge-like "Safty Last" opens the EP with a tsunami of distortion and pounding drums. The wave crashes, receding into sustained squealing feedback that swirls over a rip current of plodding bass. Guitarist and vocalist Alex Curtis sings as if in fugue state, his drowsy melody colored by reverb-soaked guitar riffs that seem to float away like untethered balloons. But as they reach the upper atmosphere, a storm front moves in. "What's the point of caution / when the world can take me out?" wonders Curtis at the hook amid a torrential downpour of fuzz.

Belly Up seem well schooled in 1990s shoegaze, particularly the UK variety that birthed titans such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and My Bloody Valentine. It's perhaps unintentional, but on "Shake," Curtis adopts an ever-so-slight British twang. He stops just shy of affectation, making his delivery feel more like an homage — or maybe just the natural by-product of his influences.

Explosive and melodic, "Dead" suggests stateside influences, as well — '90s giants Autolux, the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., in particular. Despite its fearsome dynamics, the song imparts an unhurried, contemplative mood.

Belly Up's secret weapon is drummer Ben Lau. He's a dynamic and creative player. But his work as a backing vocalist sets him apart. On "Wet Cement," his airy tenor winds around Curtis' melody, adding texture and depth. If Built to Spill had more post-punk inclinations — or if Real Estate had more fuzz pedals — it might sound something like this.

Loss closes on "You'll Never Take Me Alive." Curtis' droning vocals sit back in the mix, as if he's singing from the beyond the veil — in this case one made of his own reverb and a relentless crush of distortion. It's a particularly compelling studio trick that gives the song a haunting, spectral quality in spite of its desperate urgency.

As a rumination on death, Loss is gripping and powerful. Belly Up don't offer much in the way of answers. But they ask the right questions, framing them in a hypnotic construct of shadowy noise that invites heavy hearts and minds to wander in the gloaming.

Loss by Belly Up is available at