Closer could have very easily broken up after releasing their debut album. The band, which started out in New York City, soon found themselves separated by hundreds of miles. Ryann Slauson, their fearsome vocalist and drummer, moved to Philadelphia; guitarist Matthew Van Asselt went to Pittsburgh; bassist Griffin Irvine stayed put in Brooklyn. Bands have certainly called it quits for less. But Closer forged ahead, putting together their sophomore album in borrowed practice spaces and basements and during the few times they went out on tour. They channeled that geographic distance into an album that sounds uprooted and disarrayed. Within One Stem is just as furiously cathartic as 2018’s All This Will Be — one of the best hardcore albums from that year — and it’s also a great deal more refined.
At 24 minutes and seven tracks, Within One Stem somehow feels both more compact and more sprawling than its predecessor. Closer originally came from the world of indie rock — Van Asselt led the band Real Life Buildings for the better part of a decade and Irvine and Slauson remained in that orbit — and you can hear that influence on their new album. Closer songs have space to breathe and time for open-air glittering climaxes. But there’s also a lot of brutal intensity churning on their tracks. Within One Stem is pretty blistering, or rather it’s both pretty and blistering. The band efficiently careen from introspective post-rock to outward aggression, their stuttering rhythms ripping and tugging with a bruising energy. Along with their New York contemporaries Nine Of Swords, Closer really tap into the violence of what it feels like to be an outsider. They are fractured and urgent and angry and also artful and composed.
They also have a huge asset in Slauson, whose voice is a capacious instrument that makes anything they sing-scream infinitely compelling. It also doesn’t hurt that, as a poet, Slauson’s lyrics are often inscrutably beautiful. Sometimes they’ll just spit out words like a dictionary and force you to fill in the blanks. On opener “Ruins In Reverse,” they rattle off: “Pressure, access, inlaid, ailment/ Shallow, features, molten, effort, callous, suture.” Slauson delivers each word with a fearsome intensity as the band hammers and billows, conveying a righteous fury that evokes craggy impossible landscapes and apocalyptic fire.
Their songs are dark and heaving, often depicting a society that moves too fast to keep up with. “And they’re running from! And they’re running to!” Slauson yells on “Landslide,” the destination unknown but the confusion palpable. Slauson sings about people that are ravaged by illness and pain and repeating patterns that cannot be broken. On the claustrophobic and harrowing conclusion to “New Refused,” the whole band screams: “And we don’t change/ And all the stories the same/ 92 in the shade/ A house, a hospital/ It’s all the same.”
Closer work themselves into a frothing rage again and again on Within One Stem, but whenever the music gets too heavy, they pull back. The band acts as a salve to themselves, offering up relief when it gets to be overwhelming — like on album centerpiece “Divide” which, true to its title, slips into a sleepy funereal dirge at its halfway point. Syrupy and slow, Slauson’s voice adapts to the new environment: “The rules split apart/ Veering off into symmetry, brevity,” they sing, their cadence changing with the music. “Pouring over me, a nuanced mistake/ If there’s no concern, if there’s no return/ I’ll draw conclusions in the sand/ And joy is a crumb in my clumsy hands.”
Closer often try to zero in on that crumb, capture a fleeting feeling and then rage at the lack of results. Their songs are great big rushes of frustration. In an extended wordy breakdown on “Angry Flood,” Slauson and the rest of the band excavate feelings of boredom and malcontent, picking at fresh scars: “Planes of weakness surround laconic days/ My obligations continue on unchanged.” But there’s a rush in letting yourself break free from predictable patterns. The band imagine themselves swept up by an unstoppable force and urge us to join them. “Leap in with me/ Into this angry flood,” Slauson directs and you can’t help but want to jump on in.
Within One Stem is out 3/12 via Lauren Records. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Rob Zombie’s The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy.
• Enforced’s Kill Grid.
• Blake Mills & Pino Palladino’s Notes With Attachments.
• Eyehategod’s A History Of Nomadic Behavior.
• Slope’s Street Heat.
• Lushlife’s Redamancy.
• Really From’s self-titled album.
• Cool Ghouls’ At George’s Zoo.
• God’s Hate’s self-titled album.
• Ki Oni’s Indoor Plant Life.
• Valerie June’s The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers.
• World Peace’s Come And See.
• Nick Jonas’ Spaceman.
• 6 Dogs’ posthumous RONALD.
• The deluxe edition of Matt Berninger’s Serpentine Prison.
• The Horrors’ Lout EP.
• Future Teens’ Deliberately Alive EP.
• Dan Wriggins’ Mr. Chill EP.