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There’s a darkness on the edge of town in middle America, and you can sense it in some of the best albums of 2017 by up-and-coming indie bands. A feeling of doom is embedded in the moody heartland rock of Indiana’s Thunder Dreamer‘s gorgeous debut Capture, and it roars throughout the sludgy Siamese Dream throwbacks of Michigan trio Greet Death‘s powerful first record, Dixieland. And the darkness definitely echoes in the music of Cloakroom, a heavy-riffing “doomgaze” band whose excellent second LP Time Well comes out Friday.
Formed in 2012, Cloakroom is based an hour east of Chicago, in an area of Indiana that’s distinguished by intense industrialization and rural isolation. I have driven through this part of the country numerous times, so I can testify to how desolate and lonely northwest Indiana can be. Listening to Time Well feels like one of those long drives, in which vast metallic structures billowing exhaust into the atmosphere suddenly appear on the horizon amid countless acres of corn fields. The album opens with “Gone But Not Entirely,” in which a mechanical drum beat pounds nearly unaccompanied for nearly 30 seconds, like thunder rolling up over a hill. Finally, a meandering guitar riff enters, increasing the sense of foreboding. Relief comes only when the song finally explodes into a wall of fuzz during the softly murmuring chorus.
The rest of Time Well unfolds in similar fashion. Tension is ratcheted up by punishing, deliberate tempos supplied by the rhythm section of bassist Robert Markos and drummer Brian Busch — think Black Sabbath meets midwest slowcore kingpins Low — and is then released by singer-guitarist Doyle Martin, whose playing veers between airy shoegazer-inspired beauty and metal-tinged fury.
When I reached Martin by phone last week, his chatty affability contrasted sharply with the melancholy conjured by Time Well‘s suggestive murk. While Cloakroom has been compared with dark-hued indie outfits like Songs: Ohia and Codeine, Martin was most eager to talk about “heavy” songs by Townes Van Zandt and Randy Newman. (“When I say, ‘A song is heavy,’ I mean, ‘Damn that song carried a lot of weight,'” he enthused.) Born in La Porte, Indiana and currently living a town over in Michigan City, the 28-year-old Martin appears to be in no hurry to leave his home, even as Cloakroom has steadily gained a following.