Review: Drowse’s ‘Wane into It’ is a beautifully textured meditation on loss

The Portland artist and producer experiments with indie rock and ambient electronic on his excellent fourth album.


Jack Solomon, Contributing Writer

Drowse’s fourth album, “Wane into It,” ends a decade before it starts. On the closing track “Ten Year Hangover / Deconstructed Mystery,” Kyle Bates describes himself at 19, “hungover all the time,” learning Ableton and “obsessed with Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never.” Now at 29, the Portland songwriter and producer weaves together slowcore, shoegaze and ambient electronic into a unique bed for his ruminations on memory, death and what it means to know anyone.

Opener and lead single “Untrue in Headphones” immediately showcases Bates’ one-of-a-kind production approach with its thick dueling bass guitar melodies and deconstructed drum machines. He sings softly, mixing abstraction with simple imagery on lines like “Dreams collapsing on that Amtrak in the Northeast.” 

The sonic space gradually fills with organs, synths and vibraphone, as well as the otherworldly guitar and vocals of Bates’ labelmate and collaborator Madeline Johnston, aka. Midwife. “Mystery Pt. 2” follows with a chillingly sparse acoustic guitar melody. Even as the soundscape becomes hazy, Bates’ simple melodies keep you focused and meticulous details in the production reward repeat listens.

In the three years since Drowse recorded “Light Mirror,” Bates moved between states and dealt with the death of multiple family members — experiences that color the themes on this project. Sometimes, he retreats into memories, whether it be through vague representations like “Midnight, Oakland, December 9th: two over a burning light, ashes blowing through the trees” on “Mystery Pt. 2,” or even using a recording of his family having a conversation as the only words to “Telepresence.” 

Other times, the approach is much more direct, such as the realization “30’s on its way” on the Duster-esque “Gabapentin,” or the opening line of the gloomy title track, “Once a week, I wake up and remind myself that I am going to die.” Even with a beautiful hook sung back and forth with Lula Asplund in the coda, “Wane into It” is one of the bleakest cuts.

Later, “Blue Light Glow” presents a more upbeat moment on the album, with a jazzy drum loop and synths that buzz away as if doing computations in the background. The piece goes through multiple phases, culminating in a dissonant jam, and features a noise parade created by Sprain’s Alex Kent. It’s a rare moment when the band creates the illusion of playing live. While much of the instrumentation is organic instruments, it’s collaged together in a way that resembles a work of abstract art rather than Bates making music in a room with other musicians. 

Droning synths and strings texture every song, but always make way for guitars and vocals when needed — the use of field recordings creates an excellent atmosphere. The sound becomes open-ended enough that when listening to the album on a walk or train ride, noises from outside blend into the music.

The record’s most ambitious sounds and devastating observations come in its final leg. On the penultimate track, “Three Faces (Cyanoacrylate),” Bates despondently realizes “I know no one and no one knows me. Is knowing actually a real thing?” Pointillist synths join above the simple guitar patterns, as Bates reminisces on the early 2010s, when he “didn’t black out each weekend” and there were “no tears in soup or oldest friends.” The song eventually changes gears into contemporary classical with polyrhythmic strings and percussion, building into an ominous hard rock outro. 

The beautiful closer “Ten Year Hangover / Deconstructed Mystery” confronts death, or at least near-death, with a tape of his late grandmother recounting being thrown through the windshield in a car accident when she was a child. Much of the album was self-recorded by Bates, but the murky bass and scraping strings for the finale were taken from a 2019 full-band performance. The sound is dense and abrasive — but at the same time communal — and prevents the album from ending on too bleak of a note.

This year has been excellent for different takes on slowcore and experimental indie, between deathcrash, Ethel Cain and Black Country, New Road. Anyone with an ear for any of those should make sure not to skip “Wane into It.” It’s a creative high point for Drowse and undoubtedly one of the best records of the year.

Contact Jack Solomon at [email protected]