I was first introduced to Looming through an interview they had done with our good friend Henderson of The Alternative. They talked about their new EP and the fact that they were working on an album, and I paused the interview right around the halfway mark so that I could take my first actual listen. It was immediate to me that Looming was going to be jarring. Not so much for the music itself, but because of the vocals. Jessica Knight has a voice that I’ve often compared to Frances of Hop Along. It’s got a rasp and a soul to it, and it’s definitely going to be hit or miss. Her performance is always grandiose and full of range, but it can take a little getting used too. It’s a little off kilter, it lacks a lot of polish, but I’d be a goddamn liar if I said that I didn’t love it.
This is still a reality for Looming. On their debut album, ‘Nailbiter,’ Jessica’s vocals are as soaring and as raw as ever. In the two years between releases, it’s clear that Looming has been working on creating a more mature sound. They have shed the twee skin that kept me from coming back to the EP as often as I wanted to and have opted into a sound that combines elements of modern emo and indie rock. As a whole, ‘Nailbiter’ feels like a more complete musical thought. It’s not so much all over the place, and it has a general sense of direction to it that really compliments the songwriting.
One of the best examples of this shift comes pretty early on. The first full-fledged song on the record is called “Cotton Tongue” and it’s immediately darker and heavier than anything that we’ve heard from Looming before. It is the result of the build in tension provided by the introduction track and it continues to push forward by being both driving and crashing. During the verses, the music is very bass-heavy which is what I believe to be the reason for that driving feeling. It makes the track feel like it has a heartbeat, as if it’s a sentient being. The crashing chaos of the chorus/bridge is ultimately human and only furthers that feeling.
“Onward” was the first single released from ‘Nailbiter’ and was a very clear indicator of the direction that Looming was taking on this record. It’s still one of my favorites to listen to, if only to hear Jessica sing “Afraid of your own mind/It’s natural instinct.” I don’t know what it is about that line that hits me so hard, but I love it so much that I’m mad I wasn’t responsible for it. It’s short and it’s sweet, but it paints a very dark and very vivid picture of humanity being afraid to be alone with their thoughts . It’s eight words that I’m probably taking wildly out of context, but they spark an internal social commentary that I’m still conflicted on.
Next up, the vocal exchange on “Strive.” It could be that I’m already a sucker for decent dual vocals, but there’s something about the harmonies on this track that blows me away. Hearing Jessica’s voice (usually soaring and over the top) work in support of the male vocals on the chorus is incredible. It is a short lived beauty though, because “Strive” is one of the shortest songs on the album.
One of the most interesting songs on the record is “Eat.” The drums hit so fast and so smooth that you can’t help but move when you hear the song. This is certainly not as dark in sound as the rest of the record, and it’s a nice bit of brevity. This is the closest to a full fledged indie song on the record, with light and airy guitars and a chorus with vocal harmonies that will make even the most stoic of humans melt. The first line of the track is another that really resonates with me. The song is very clearly about a relationship at it’s end, so it makes sense to start with the line “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I don’t know that the song was supposed to read like self-reflection, but the use of lyrics like “the heart lies and the head plays tricks/my love is ugly/you don’t want it” sure make it feel that way. I love when songwriters expose their own insecurities because it adds a more human quality to their music that may otherwise not exist.
Without question, the best song on ‘Nailbiter’ is “Brother.” Everyone is at their best here. The music feels as mathy and intricate as a Tiny Moving Parts song with incredible vocal harmonies like we heard on “Strive.” The lyrics seem to be deeply rooted in personal experience, especially when hearing “Now I’m wondering should I loosen the strings or tighten the rope?/But I can’t sleep right until I know you’ve got your chin up/I can see you falling under/I can see my brother/I can see you falling under/I’m trying to reach you/I’m trying to show you better.” I mean, the lyrics themselves are deeply moving, but hearing the emotion reflected in the delivery really drives the point home. The second half of those lyrics is where the vocal melodies kick in, and if you melted on “Strive,” you’re going to be a puddle of tears here. “Brother” is a song that I will continue to come back to, just to sit in awe and admiration of it’s beauty.
Looming have certainly evolved; there is no denying that statement. It’s been a cool year and seeing this band go from one that I saw potential in, to a band responsible for creating one of the heaviest and most emotionally cohesive records of 2015 has been truly incredible. Although their sound may be a bit jarring, it’s clear that Looming has a very bright future ahead of them. Fans of Hop Along and Tiny Moving Parts are going to truly gobble this record up. I can see this being a low-key, wildcard AOTY contender for a lot of those people. I guess we’ll wait and see. It’s sure to be a nailbiter. 4/5