A product of Springfield, Illinois’ healthy DIY music culture, Jessica Knight, Mitch Baker, Jordan Fein and Brandon Carnes AKA the band called Looming, have gone from playing together in Looming as a side project to releasing their first full length album, Nailbiter, via No Sleep Records. The time for a sound and subject like theirs is right. With a resurgence in 90s bands like Veruca Salt and Smashing Pumpkins-themselves products of their own generational DIY culture-Looming takes the best of what they are passionate about, musically and personally, and puts it all together to create a sound that isn’t exactly punk (although none of the songs on Nailbiter reach the 4 minute mark-a punk hallmark), isn’t quite pop (there’s way too much guitar here), and isn’t quite alternative (whatever that means now). The best way to describe Nailbiter musically is engaging, and the best way to describe it thematically is to borrow a term from literary theory: slice of life.
“I’m just trying to see the world/With new eyes” sings vocalist/bassist Jessica Knight on “New Eyes” with her excellently haunting voice that sounds like a more frantic version of Screaming Females’ Marissa P, but with less angst and more anxiety. Anxiety over angst best describes the overall feel of Looming’s music, although it isn’t a negative type of anxiety that leads to abysmal depression, but rather the kind best thought of in the vein of the old adages, “a little stress is a good thing,” or “if you’re not a little worried, then you probably don’t care.” Looming definitely cares about their sound and subject, even if at times it’s so personal that it’s a little oblique. That obliqueness makes for some great art though. The more you peel back the layers of Knight’s lyrics the more they open up and and begin to become something personally relatable to. It’s easy to identify with, and even insert yourself into, the role Knight is living through in “New Eyes.” We’ve all been there and felt the anxiety of love, lost love, and the co-dependent despondent/hopeful relationship we find ourselves engaged in with ourselves at such times. “New Eyes” is about the most important relationship that one has to be healthily engaged in before one can healthily engage with someone else: yourself.
Therein lies the power and beauty in Looming’s music. There’s an open ended poetry at work here in the lyrics that create the aforementioned theme of each song being akin to a personal slice of life tale. On “Cotton Tongue,” the only discernibly sounding punk song on the album (replete with the required ascending punk chords), Knight sings “I can feel it/The monster breathing/I can feel it/Running through my skin/Not again! Not again!.” The tight base line and the clashing cymbals are nearly breathless in their quick rhythms, sonically mirroring Knight when she sings “Do you hold your breath/When your eyes meet mine?” Lyrics and music come together to create that also aforementioned anxiety with a completeness that’s more mature than one would expect from a band just releasing their first full length album. The band creates a similar effect on “Strive,” albeit without the same heft that they achieve on “Cotton Tongue.” The repetitive guitar lines and minimal movement in the rhythm of the song do create a tense sense of strenuous striving towards…something. The only problem is there is no resolution. Perhaps, that’s the point as often times a “slice of life” story leaves the reader (or in this case, listener) with an unresolved or at least unsatisfactory ending. The attempt to meld story and song here leaves the reader more unsettled than enlightened. The band completely redeems themselves after this misstep though with the outstanding, if less (purposefully) oblique “Output.” Here Knight’s meaning has little need of sussing out: “Nothing haunts us more/Than the things/We don’t say/My throat has wounds.” What the song lacks in lyrical esotericism, it more than makes with some powerfully musical straightforwardness. The solitary electric guitar riffs that propel the song along serve as perfect atmosphere for Knight’s voice as she digs deeper into her soul, looking for the courage to speak her simple truths. When the song erupts into the heaviest chords recorded on the album, the listener is swept into the darker mood that permeates “Output,” which in the final movement of the song sludges its way into a resounding grunge riff that pummels the listener, but in a positive way. Again, the music and the lyrical themes feed off one another in a brilliant interplay that is beyond most bands at the point in their career that Looming is.
Nailbiter is a the kind of debut full length album that betrays a maturity beyond its composers’ expected level. It’s not a perfect album, but it’s the kind of album that demands your attention. It foreshadows the great future this band has, and that we have to look forward to hearing.