Content warning for what lies ahead: we’re going to be talking about death, suicide and addiction quite a bit in the lines that follow. If you’re not comfortable with that, no worries, see you in the next one, but it is very hard to talk about Drowse and their third album on the venerable Flenser Wane into It without mentioning the heartache, loss and lingering uncertainty that went into this three-year journey. For those tuning out, I’ll leave you with my abridged thoughts up front: Wane into It is a heartbreakingly real, achingly emotional ride that is really not to be missed.
Kyle Bates laid the seeds for what would become Wane into It all the way back in 2019, before the world became what we know it to be today. Ultimately, the fate of this record was shaped by two major events: moving across state lines with a long-distance relationship and the living wake for a family member who was about to commit suicide due to problems with alcohol and drug addictions, something that Bates also has struggled with personally in the past. There is an excellent interview with Bates over at Chorus.fm that I won’t steal too much from; in fact, I almost insist you read it because hearing the stories on this album in Bates’ own words is paramount to understanding the emotional depth on Wane into It. Needless to say, this is an album that dwells on some hard topics, but at the core of the album is the idea of memory and how we curate the memories we want to live on in our absence, especially through the internet. Like in a wake, we can use the internet as a tool to select the aspects of ourselves we want to outlive us. In a way, this adds an element of hope that breaks through the gloom, the idea that there will always be a link to the past that connects us to others, however uncaring it may be.
Drowse has always been a self-produced project, but with Bates also completing an MFA during the recording of Wane into It, it’s fair to say that this is the best sounding and most fully realized Drowse album yet. The fairly typical acoustic strums and electric jangles (recorded everywhere from a bedroom to the side of a highway to a practice space to a Pacific Northwest forest) that are synonymous with slowcore are rounded out with ambient electronics (and you know how much I love ambient electronics), field recordings, glitchy and degraded samples, keyboard and strings, all held together with Bates’ Elliott Smith-esque spiderweb-thin voice, weaving in and out of the layers of sound and ambience. Helping out with the overall soundscapes are a couple of big names in the circles around slowcore and the Flenser, including Madeline Johnston of Midwife, Alex Kent of Sprain and a whole chamber ensemble to lend strings and assorted instrumentation. Mostly, though, this is Bates baring his soul for the world to see, and the waves and crescendos of strings, keys and samples are there to provide a doorway to step through, to become lost in this album. It is not difficult to picture myself in the position of Bates through these songs: you feel every ounce of sadness, confusion, age, intensity, and yes, some hope in these compositions. There is no way to listen to Wane into It and come out the other side unaffected. It is a deeply moving album, and incredibly intense when the topics are held up to light, but there is so much nuance that it doesn’t end up being a complete bummer.
The most striking moment on Wane into It comes at the very end: the closing track “Ten Year Hangover” ends with a degraded sample of Bates’ grandmother telling the story of how she was in a horrible car accident and ended up going through the windshield. It is a somber tale of a close call with death, a tale that lives on now past the life of the person who told it, and in that way it perfectly encapsulates what Wane into It is all about. This is an album that takes some of the heaviest topics imaginable and deals with them in a way that is profoundly human and real, through stories and songs, the way they were meant to be dealt with.