by Tim Crisp (@betteryetpod)
Chicago’s Not For You begin their third LP Drown with a song called “Relax” which doesn’t exactly live up to the title. A choppy, churning instrumental build carries the first half of the track before the rhythm section drops from underneath Lindsey Sherman’s jangly guitar chords, only to come back in on a disruptive time signature change while Sherman whales “Relax! Relax on! Relax! Relax off!” Sherman’s vocal is scraping and shrieky, lapped in reverb and so low in the mix that it sounds almost desperate. You listen on in discomfort as Not For You has you in the palm of their hand. Drown is an ugly, nasty mix of shoegaze, sludge, and bleak goth that will make you squirm and ask for more.
Not For You began as an extension of a Sherman’s solo project Cool Mom, forming as a means to put a band behind the songs Sherman had been writing. Pasha Petrosyan would join on drums, although he’d never played drums in a band before. Not For You’s first record Canary In The Mine reflects these beginnings but don’t let that sound like an undersell. Sherman’s compositions are repetitive and moody and her vocals have a captivating draw. The effects on her voice recall the sound of early Angel Olsen recordings but Sherman’s vocal approach is completely her own. She works around notes and pulls her voice in unique directions, movements that vocal instruction would typically discourage, but Sherman uses to create evocative moods.
Sherman’s vocal exploration has proven to be a great asset as the band’s sound evolved out of the simpler compositions of Canary In The Mine. When Michael Dunne joined the band on bass, the three-piece began to work more as a unit and expand their scope. 2016’s “I Dream Of Sludge” single and the band’s second LP Flood was far more confrontational and prodding. Sludge and hard rhythms melded themselves into Sherman’s already dark vision as the songs became more discomforting. With Drown, everything feels well in place, and Not For You has put together a thorough statement of intent.
Drown continues Not For You’s movement into more abrasive sounds. Petrosyan’s drumming is often chopping underneath Sherman’s guitar which retains some of the jangle from earlier recordings but is boosted with overdrive and reverb. Sherman has also developed an ear-splitting scream, which has the ability to completely take over a track. A notable example of this effect is on the album’s first single “It Can’t See” which finds the band dropping out under Sherman’s whaling of the chorus line. Following the chorus, the track detours in a direction markedly different from the slow build that precedes; many of the songs follow a similar pattern. Mapping out the songs on Drown many read: Part 1 / Hard Stop / Part 2 / etc. “It Can’t See” is a rare example of a song that actually does repeat a part, for the most part once the band has shifted they don’t return. What makes this formula work—and work excessively well—for Not For You is their ability to build tension within the quiet dynamics, and they do so through repetition. “Empty” alternates between two tense, contained rhythms bouncing in anticipation for its first half before a full band blow-out turns everything upside down. Abrupt shifts occur throughout Drown and they’re executed thoughtfully once their tension has been built and maintained properly. The patience to hold out is the mark of a confident band who knows how to do a thing and do it well—Not For You is most certainly that type of band.