This review originally appeared on LamplighterNJ.com in January 2015
Bloom & Breathe is a fantastic album. Let’s just get that out of the way now, because as a music reviewer, it’s my responsibility to be a critic. Even when something is already very good, I’m supposed to tell you how it could’ve been better. I’m going to do just that, but before I do, I need you to understand that the New Brunswick post-rockers in Gates have truly created an incredible album, no matter what shallow criticisms I dig up for this review. Like an NBA analyst pointing out flaws in Lebron James’ game from the sideline, I’m just picking on shortcomings that I would be lucky to possess myself.
I’ll begin with what makes this record so great. Very few artists have successfully achieved such a grand, cinematic scope as Gates have with Bloom & Breathe. It all begins with the instrumental “Everything That Ever Has Been,” which frames the album both musically and titularly with the closing track, “Everything That Always Will Be.” After the intro has finished building up in evolving stanzas of spacey, reverb-soaked guitar, the rest of the album dials it up to ten for the next twelve tracks. By the time a thundering tom hit ushers in the impossibly huge outro of “Persist in Delusion,” you’ll be questioning your own existence while vocalist Kevin Dye sings, “All we had is a lie, come to find out.” And if you even make it to the ninth track, “Born Dead,” you’ll likely be in the fetal position, begging for mercy as the whole group sings, “We all die longing to feel alive,” an echo of the powerful lyric already sung in an earlier track, “Bloom.” The entire album succeeds in finding effortless movement between elongated moments of delicacy, similar to the sounds of From Indian Lakes and This Will Destroy You, to climactic breakdowns of post-rock aggression, akin to the early careers of Thrice and As Cities Burn.
Now about those flaws. When it comes to emotion, Gates decided to err on the side of caution, layering every single line with an abundance of vocal and lyrical intensity. While this may have been a positive trait on a much shorter album, the emotional overdrive eventually begins to wear out its welcome over the course of thirteen tracks. The formula of somber post-rock jams with aggressive, monumental endings may produce amazing results on a individual basis, but it starts to play itself out when applied to the entire album. The acoustic “Marrow” and the ethereal “Nothing You’ll Miss” do take the volume down a few decibels, but the emotional altitude remains in the stratosphere. In the end, it’s too much for the casual listener to stomach in one sitting. Listeners like myself may appreciate the circular framing of the opening and closing instrumental tracks, but many will likely find these disposable, especially given the power that vocalist Kevin Dye’s voice has when carrying the album’s more complete songs. It’s excess like this that ultimately makes Bloom & Breathe a ship sinking under the weight of it’s own emotional cargo. But if this record is a sinking ship, it’s the Titanic of New Jersey post-rock efforts. Tragically grandiose and majestic in its hubris, Bloom & Breathe is an album I would gladly play on repeat while taking on water.