Great shoegaze blurs the line between the dark and light, the clear and covered. It draws you into a world full of shimmering notes and mesmerizing melodies, each firmly placed behind a hazy screen that masks the song’s true impact. It’s a delicate balance between the two aspects: rely too much on the distorted haze and you may lose the dazzling melody that entices the listener, while leaning too heavily on glittering hooks may expose the shrouded intrigue that keeps the listener coming back for more.
From the sound of it Debrider knows this all too well, offering four gripping songs on their new EP Widowed that walk the genre’s precarious tightrope with conviction. But as the group makes its way down that tightrope, you begin to notice there’s much more than just light and dark occupying the ends of the balancing pole. Even with more to balance, the band still proudly makes it to the end of the line without a single pause or misstep.
To pinpoint just what was added to the ends of the pole in Debrider’s hands, you need look no further than vocalist and lyricist (and Debrider mastermind) Lia Pisa-Relli. It’s her own voice, through words, notes and rhythms, that propels this music out of the usual shoegaze range and into something truly spectacular.
Vocally, Pisa-Relli performs with a quiet force that asserts itself over each song, even while drifting along with the nebulous music. There are numerous tricks and methods she uses to accomplish this reserved emphasis. Listen to the repeated line “you’re nothing to me” in “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” Hear how she rushes through the first half of the sentences, rendering the concept of you as an afterthought, before firmly rooting herself in the “me” and modulating it for emphasis. Listen to the verses of “Last Place.” Hear how she subtly lifts her voice at the end of each phrase, foreshadowing the howl that closes out the song. Or skip ahead to the titular line of “Like A Man” and hear her sly snarl belittle the very concept of being a “man.”
But it’s not just the way she sings these notes, it’s also how she structures them. Throughout the EP, the cadence and rhythms of her voice is just as compelling as the actual notes she sings, giving not only color to the songs but also complexity.
On “Last Place,” she cross stitches the delicate sound with her voice to produce a song that’s intricate even before you factor in the words. “Sparkling Eyes,” the EP’s most resplendent offering, takes this a step further by adding that irregular cadence and rhythm with music that doesn’t set into a solitary pattern. As it changes, her voice changes too, adjusting itself mid-flight to catch an open space between notes, something that highlights the forceful space of her songs.
Lyrically, there’s a lot to unpack in her songs too. But what’s most striking is how she approaches her own insecurities and self-doubt. Going back to “Last Place,” the lyrics take on a pointed, almost accusatory tone, before we reach the uneasy conclusion of the song. Throughout, it seems the song has been about “Who has won first place,” an often repeated line casting doubt on the excellence of the “winner” here. But it’s the conclusion that sees this tone unravel as the singer dips back into her own insecurities, repeating to a close the phrase “Why am I in last place” and pointing the finger backwards instead of forward.
“Sparkling Eyes” does this as well, trading pointed lines like “Why do you hurt me like this” with “I wish I knew it’d turn to lies,” and giving a glimpse into the internal conflict people with uneasy minds often go through.
It’s worth mentioning throughout all this vocal and lyrical praise that the music itself is not paint-by-numbers filler. The sound of “Sparkling Eyes” gives an almost cinematic feel to Pisa-Relli’s vocal work, while the tender notes and spacious backdrop of “Wrapped Around Your Finger” feels like classic Angelo Badalamenti, albeit with a bit more adventure than romance leading you to wonder just how Julee Cruise would perform it at the Roadhouse.
But it is Pisa-Relli’s voice and words that are the lifeblood of this music, giving an energetic rhythm to many of the songs that’s delivered with demure force. It leaves you with four songs as spacious as they are dynamic, that provides you discerning insight into what dream pop can be, and maybe even should be.