THAT GUM YOU LIKE IS GOING TO COME BACK IN STYLE. I guess by “that gum,” I mean the Glasgow based shoegaze project A Sea of Dead Trees, and by “back in style,” I mean “release a new album called Garmonbozia.” In case you haven’t figured it out by now, a lot of this album, and this review subsequently, are going to be loosely themed around the David Lynch masterpiece Twin Peaks, but that’s certainly far from the only surprise awaiting those who dive into Garmonbozia, nor is the whole album a tongue-in-cheek media reference. There is a lot of honest emotional depth waiting deep beyond those beautiful metaphorical Douglas firs.
A Sea of Dead Trees is the brainchild of Glasgow native Robert Heath, who began the project in 2017 as an exclusively one-man and exclusively instrumental outlet for musical ideas. It follows then, that after releasing two albums, it’s about time for Heath to break some of these self-imposed rules. Garmonbozia marks both the first time that live drums are incorporated into the sound, and also the first that Heath sings on. It’s a touch that Heath felt was necessary due to the much deeper, darker and more personal feelings explored on Garmonbozia, specifically Heath’s lifelong struggles with depression, anxiety and hopelessness. “I’ve always used music to help me work through these thoughts and feelings. However, Garmonbozia is the first time I’ve literally been able to find my voice in order to describe them both musically and lyrically. Taking the step to add vocals to my music has made this album so much more personal, so much more raw…With Garmonbozia, I’ve tried to capture my mental state. The ups and downs, the pervasive thoughts, the valleys of sadness and the peaks of joy. I really feel this album has accomplished this and I’m so proud of it,” says Heath of his most recent work. The title of the album is a reference to one of the weirder and more esoteric aspects of Twin Peaks, a show that is infamous for being…well, weird and esoteric. “In that programme, evil spirits who dwell in the forest seek food in the form of the pain and sorrow of others. This food is called Garmonbozia. This album is my Garmonbozia, my pain and sorrow laid bare and ready to be consumed in the form of music. It’s my hope that my struggles will help others realise they are not alone in what they are going through.” It might sound cheesy at first, but there is an endearing honesty and vulnerability in the way that Heath connects his art to his us through the lens of something pretty well ingrained in the culture.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Garmonbozia is a gorgeous album. Take a person who already is known for making dark, beautiful music and have them lay their soul bare for the world to see and the only outcome is an album that truly speaks from the heart and touches a huge depth of emotion. Besides the singing, the other big change that came with Garmonbozia is the use of live drums instead of programmed drums, courtesy of producer Tommy Duffin. For my money, this change does an awful lot to make the songs feel warm and organic, just as much as the singing. Obviously, the singing is the aspect to point out, and it is very well woven into the well-established tapestry of ASoDT songs. Heath does not sing on every track, but when he does you really feel the emotion he carries and how much pain he is laying out. It’s not overdone though, and to his credit, the instinct of restraint and control is one that helps the spots where his voice pops up feel all the more memorable over the lush, hypnotic and entrancing guitars and synthesizers. The album is a little on the front-heavy side, with more upbeat tracks like “Bubblegum Burrito” and “Carried Away by Owls” leading off. Starting with “Damn Fine Coffee” the pace slows down and the tones darken, but overall the experience is one that leads back to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Garmonbozia deals with a lot of unpleasantness but it’s packaged in a way that is musically elegant and not overly heavy with sweetness or gloom.
“I can not wait to let others hear it. If only one other person can take a modicum of solace from this work and take comfort that they are not alone in going through their mental health struggles, I will be more than pleased,” closes Heath. Garmonbozia is an album that screams as emphatically as it whispers about healing and finding closure for the dark feelings that dwell in us all. I have no doubts that Heath is going to continue to be proud of this album years down the road. Give yourself a present today and listen to it, maybe with a nice big piece of cherry pie and some damn good hot, black coffee.