When Cloakroom first materialized back in 2012, they did so modestly. A couple songs appeared on a Bandcamp page with a succinct description: “Cloakroom consists of three factory workers from the Region.” As far as biographies go, it’s about as terse as they come. But at the same time, it conveyed everything that they needed to get across, simple facts that speak to greater truths.
These are the facts as we know them now: Cloakroom still consists of three people, vocalist-guitarist Doyle Martin, bassist Robert Markos, and drummer Brian Busch. Though they were once factory workers, they’ve left the factories behind, but their jobs are still blue-collar. Martin splits his time between two different breweries, something Busch moonlights with as well while also managing a rental property. As for Markos, he’s a delivery driver, though he spends time writing for auto racing publications and making documentaries on the subject with his father. And that final part, about the Region, that unique amalgam of cities and towns in Northwest Indiana that’s equal parts industrial and rural? Well, that’s still true, too. Much like the Region is in its own way a part of Chicago, one listen to Cloakroom’s new album, Time Well, shows the area’s distinctive imprint is still just as pronounced.
For Time Well, the band’s Relapse Records debut and second full-length overall, the members of Cloakroom made a work that’s at once grandiose and deeply insular. Following the release of 2015’s Further Out on Run For Cover Records, the band toured alongside the likes of Brand New, Russian Circles, and Nothing. Those tours proved that Cloakroom makes perfect sense opening for instrumental post-metal bands and acts that cut their teeth on the pop-punk circuit, without adhering to either style. Cloakroom occupies a space between worlds, crafting its unique brand of thoughtfully heavy music, something Relapse has long specialized in.
For Time Well, Martin, Markos, and Busch further explored the creative space they share by opting not to record in someone else’s studio, but to start from scratch and build one themselves. Turning their practice space into a laboratory in which they could cook up whatever they desired, Cloakroom allowed themselves to have a hand in every part of the work, from writing, to recording, to drafting and constructing a bunker of their very own. “It was a very long process that involved the actual conceptualization and construction of the space, as well as researching and piecing together the right gear to make the record we wanted,” said Busch. And once the studio completed its transition, it became a workspace that was essential to the creation of Time Well. It sheltered them from the outside world, serving as a location for them to become immersed in the songs, pushing sounds to their farthest limits and then going just a bit farther. “We could work at all hours of the night and pick up where we left off days later,“ said Martin. “We vaulted the ceiling, amassed some gear with a little help from Relapse, and, after laying a rat’s nest of cables through the place, we started to record.”
The culmination of that shared effort is a work that transcends simple genre descriptors. The music coalesces into a thick wall of sound, lumbering forward as one singular piece that never begins to atrophy. Yet simultaneously, it indulges in the band’s softer side, turning those tributes to Jason Molina into Cloakroom’s very own brand of Americana, one that’s equally concerned with the astral plane and our modern world.
It makes sense then that the band would cite everything from Boards of Canada and John Fahey’s autobiography to the works of Stanley Kubrick and acclaimed Russian science fiction director Alexei German as influences on the record.“Time Well touches on a lot of ambiguous, mundane stuff like dreams, travel, and ritual,” said Martin, “But in any of those channels you can soon find yourself delving further into the likes of astral projection, disembodiment, the human condition, the rites of liminality, cosmic doubt, and disillusion.”
The album’s first single “Big World”—which announced their signing to Relapse—is a song Martin describes as delving into that disillusionment, while also exploring “faculties of mental illness.” The Neurosis-like ”Seedless Star” is a rousing post-apocalyptic narrative with Martin simply stating it tackles “the downfall of humanity,” in a way that’s both humanistic and abstract. If you think that’s heavy, “The Sun Won’t Let Us Go” touches on evolution and the growing ignorance of our shared past, while “Concrete Gallery” finds its inspiration in the writings about Hugh Glass—the basis for the film The Revenant—and how, as Martin puts it, “I was just drawn to stories of our relationship with the inhospitable and the wrongs that one commits to maintain an existence in such an environment. It gets a little sci-fi in the end, lyrics are supposed to be open-ended and free to be used as the listener see fit.” For its part, “Hymnal” adapts an American spiritual that dates back to 1899, turning the repeated phrase of “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” into a ruminative piece that’s best taken with a bit of incense.
With Time Well, Cloakroom shows itself untethered from the present moment. It’s a record that’s flanked by contradictory ideas that are always running parallel; Growth begets destruction begets death. It’s an unending cycle, and Time Well is the soundtrack to that unending, awe-inspiring momentum.
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