Guest review by Patrick Daul.
In an increasingly genre-less musical landscape, it seems more difficult than ever to define a band within a single stylistic framework. With Northwest Indiana trio Cloakroom, it’s downright tedious. How this band is described will oscillate between subgenres of rock depending on the day, and which bearded-man-drinking-IPA you ask. Most often, Cloakroom fans will simply land on shoegaze but there are elements to the band’s sound that make them much harder to characterize, like stoner/doom/sludge metal, and even emo.
Like many bands of their ilk, Cloakroom inhabits that weird no man’s land between indie-rock and metal. It appears that’s exactly where the trio wants to be. Even with such highly specific descriptors (like “blackgaze” really a thing), Cloakroom finds itself with plenty of company in this mish-mash of subgenres. Hum and Nothing are the closest touch-points you can reference as a comparison. But (former?) indie darlings DIIV sound a lot like Cloakroom on their recent records, as have Deafheaven.
Despite all the inevitable comparisons, the members of Cloakroom have started to establish their own lane, and just in time. Last year’s Dissolution Wave marks the band’s third full-length release, and they just passed the decade mark as a group.
While dense and sonically uniform, Dissolution Wave is their strongest project to date. It is technically a “space western” concept album, with heady neckbeard themes best bantered over during a game of D&D. Fortunately, Cloakroom avoided the gimmicky pitfalls and further refined their sound. The bulk of Thursday night’s set consisted of songs from this release, with a few tracks from previous albums peppered in.
The band started their set with “Lost Meaning,” which is a song that perfectly encapsulates Cloakroom’s sound. Drenched guitars, pulsing bass, and precise drumming melded with Doyle Martin’s vocals, which received the same echoey treatment as they do on records. The crowd let the muddy reverb wash over them; after all, that’s what they came for. Cloakroom is one of the best bands out there at delivering this sound. These dudes own pedals, and they know how to use them.
The band went deeper with “Fear of Being Fixed,” which is one of their most Sleep- (the band) indebted songs. It proved to be the heaviest track, as ethereal soundscapes made up a large chunk of the performance. Sludgy riffage was prominent, but they came in moments rather than comprising entire songs. This softer touch was surprising to some in the crowd, but it worked well on songs like “Dissolution Wave” and “Doubts.”
Cloakroom’s dreamy sequences filled up the smaller venue for prolonged stretches, yet their tonal wayfaring never seemed to lose the crowd. If their wandering ever got too in the weeds, they were able to cut it with a key change or more aggressive track. There are tender passages, especially on the song “Doubts.” Cloakroom strikes a nice contrast between the detached textures of the instrumentation and the surprising vulnerability of the vocals, and they’re more than adept at managing and exploiting this tension.
After an extended period of delicate atmospherics, Cloakroom closed with “Dissembler.” The song started with an almost doom-metal flourish. Everything was dripping in reverb, of course, but the arrangement and song structure were more dynamic than other songs. Washy synths trickled down over the rhythm section, and the song even pivoted to a down-tempo conclusion.
For a band with such a micro focus, Cloakroom can surprise you on both their records and live shows. The packed Schubas Tavern crowd, though likely well-initiated into the band’s sound, seemed more than happy with the Dissolution Wave-heavy setlist. There’s just enough variation in their sound and a few twists and turns that kept the crowd guessing. The trio is a well-oiled machine, with a fine-tuned live sound, and a self-awareness that enlivens the performance.
Exploring the back catalog, their albums and songs seem to sprawl a bit, which works well to a point. Dissolution Wave seems to be a tightening-up of the band’s thesis rather than a flippant side-quest that most concept albums amount to. It feels like they’re working towards something, and just about getting there.
This sound may never appeal to most people, but the band will always have its audience. Most importantly, Cloakroom are getting better. They are on the cusp of achieving their proof of concept and could become one of the most prominent bands in their lane. This is certainly fitting for a band playing a festival called Tomorrow Never Knows.
This review of Cloakroom ‘s show at Schubas was written by guest author Patrick Daul. Daul is an avid music fan and concertgoer living with his wife in Logan Square. When he’s not standing towards the back of the crowd at his favorite vanues Empty Bottle or Thalia Hall, he’s either cycling along the 606, hanging with his nieces and nephew, or enjoying a beer at one of Chicago’s breweries.
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