by Connor McInerney (@b_ck_tt)
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of catching Den-Mate perform at Elsewhere’s Zone One in Brooklyn on a chilly Monday night. It was a new and exciting experience for me in a personal capacity - I had previously only caught Julia Hale and company’s performances in their native Washington, DC, where I lived for five years up until recently. Seeing the group within the DC scene had always contextualized them as a local band who were on the up-and-up, whose best days were yet to come in which Hale’s music would explode to a wider platform of listeners.
Seeing Den-Mate tear through a vivacious set, full of songs from the forthcoming release, demonstrated that she was on the precipice of something big; after obtaining a cassette copy of their newest effort, Loceke, and listening to it that night, my hunch was confirmed over the course of ten, genre-transcending and immaculately produced tracks.
Loceke as a record loses absolutely no momentum from start to finish - both in terms of instrumentation, a mix of tangible and electronic dream pop textures, as well as Hale’s world-building of her perspective. “Charlotte,” the album’s opener, is an atmospheric and elusive track in which Hale alludes to a third party (dubbed Charlotte) and their intentions while waxing poetically on the pitfalls of local DIY renown - “why do these people want me / but not my shadow?” It’s the beginning of a five-act play in which Den-Mate pulls back the curtain - only slightly - to reveal an understated, sometimes intangible anger.
Much of Loceke reads as this interesting balancing act through which Den-Mate unveils a discontent that is amorphous and hard to pin down, but undeniably present. Without getting into the specifics, however, Hale is able to paint a picture of quiet rage that is simultaneously personal and universal.
The album’s fourth track, “Sick,” which has been a staple of Den-Mate performances over the last few years but remained unrecorded until now, is a perfect example of Hale’s ability as a lyricist - her description of things that should have remained unsaid, a ubiquitous experience, is shrouded in the mystery of the details left unspoken on the track itself, aided by a mysterious, ethereal haze of reverb-laden synths and echoing guitar lines. The content is full of personality, but the execution is equal parts elusive and relatable, wherein we as listeners are drawn in both by a desire to eliminate the mystery and because we too know the sentiment present.
Title track “Loceke” is the apex of Den-Mate’s lyrical and instrumental vision, a five minute, drone-heavy song offset by a melancholy, plucky synth lead, all set against Hale’s refrain, imploring, “don’t get lost without me.” The track builds to an uncompromising crescendo of vocal samples, ambient percussion, and disorienting electronica. It’s a track rife with emotion and innovative instrumentation, one that resonates with the listener both in terms of its dramatic tension and its indeterminate conflict - the allusion to people and places we all lost inadvertently in the haze of life passing before us. It’s an emotional tipping point, soundtracked perfectly by the blending of instrumental elements present on Den-Mate’s previous releases (namely her self-titled and the Entropii EP) that represents the culmination of Hale’s many year effort to source and present a sound that is uniquely her own.
Loceke is described by Den-Mate as a “rebirth” in the album’s liner notes, but it feels in many ways like the exhale after a long breath. Following the more industrial and electronic tone set by Hale’s last EP, Entropii, Loceke is the release of a story and aesthetic Den-Mate has wanted to share for many years now, finally done on terms that rings true to Hale’s worldview and desired sonic output. It is a landmark, honest release that speaks to the universality of human life - our experiences set us apart, but we all feel, nonetheless.