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Post-Metal Mantra: Spotlights’ “Love & Decay” Grows Slowly, but Strongly

spotlights love and decay

It is very likely that when you first put on Love & Decay, you won’t immediately be blown away. After all, its opening moves feel perhaps a bit too reminiscent of post-metal at large, gesturing both to shoegaze and doom metal in one sweep of the hand, sounding almost like it should have emerged during the mid-2000s boom of post-rock/doom metal hybrids coming out of the indie and hardcore scene at the time. It is forgivable to think this, because admittedly Love & Decay sits comfortably within that now-familiar genre space to a degree that perhaps doesn’t immediately jostle the listener into a deeper sense of appreciation.

The magic of Love & Decay, though, is in the substantial heft of the compositions. It wasn’t the first listen that necessarily grabbed me, though the way its gentle throb seemed to induce a kind of literary peristalsis in me felt notable. But shortly after, I felt the impulse to put it on again. And then again. And then again. I put it on in the car with my partner on the ride down to my mother’s for Easter as it fit the gentle propulsion and mindfulness of a drive, and my partner’s response was that it was non-notable; a few hours later, they asked for the name of the record we’d listened to in the car because it seemed like a good record to get some additional work done to. By the end of the weekend, they’d listened to the album five times.

The best way I can think to parse this phenomenon is that Love & Decay, despite its heavier textures, leans more on the ambient and krautrock inspired edges of post-metal, seeking less to be a concrete musical enunciation of an experience — something that draws the eye, heart, and ear in one swift and mighty tug, but more to soundtrack your days and the quietness of interior thought. After all, most of our days are not spent in eventful happenings nor in the richness of reminiscence but instead in that muddled middle place, where we are present in the moment but the moment is empty, seconds ticking past with little to show. There is a kind of hollow there, an experiential and emotional hollow, one that feels a bit like yearning and a bit like anxious frustration.

This album’s songs live there, in that place, one that does not immediately reach out to grab you but will inevitably one day reach to you.

Love & Decay lives in that gently dour area where most shoegaze thrives, tapping into the persistent ennui and dissatisfaction of modernity rather than the extremities of death or other finite but definable issues. The emotional heft of the album seems to lie, fittingly, in the space of its title, of the manner in which time strips us fragment by fragment and day by day of the things we love and cling too. It is not a dramatic event but instead a decay state, where loss only seems to accumulate over the long-term but is invisible in the intermediate spaces. This renders Love & Decay a fitting record to meditate to, letting its sonic textures guide and map out an emotional space inside so that evoked thoughts can rise up like bubbles to be popped by the stilled mind, taking note of that quiet but persistent ache. Spotlights do a fine job of scoring that more undefinable and evasive feeling that seems to sit inside of everyone but doesn’t seem to erupt even into a modernist and evocative name like “sonder.”

In this way there is a kind of sonic parallel to Deftones, who often deal with the same flickering unnameable emotionality within their mixture of dream pop, shoegaze, and heavy music. Deftones though still hold a slight edge, if only because the decades of work in the trenches and the masterful work of their vocals, guitars, and drums have lent them a singularity that not every group has. Spotlights isn’t quite as singular in their sound. Instead, they are a bit closer to Planning for Burial, another remarkable group combining heavy music with shoegaze and post-metal but that does not always rise into a singular sonic and emotional space. Deftones can ape a band’s sound and it will still sound, on some level, like Deftones and no one else; Spotlights meanwhile has a passage in the middle of “Free From Falling” which feels and sounds exactly like peak-era Isis. Granted, this is no knock: Isis is a dearly beloved and departed band, and being able to faithfully replicate both the sound and more importantly the feel of those kinds of sonic ideas is still a notable and valuable one. But it likewise remainders some of the better moments of Spotlights’ record from feeling fully owned by them.

Love & Decay is a grower, one that will find itself more and more at home as an emotional soundtrack the more you listen to it. Its charms are revealed more by substance than by flash, with its powers seemingly inexhaustible to compensate for the lack of immediately catching songs. Ultimately, this is also of value: songs with remarkable qualities that wear themselves thin after a few listens are fun and good, but records that you can seemingly put on and find joy forever are more valuable. In this way, Love & Decay places itself next to Lantlos’ Melting Sun as another example of a record that may not have immediately grabbed its listenership by the throat but has settled over the years into a well-respected and ever-present position in the post-metal canon.

Love & Decay released last Friday via Ipecac Recordings.

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