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Looms - "The Way Up" | Album Review


by David Haynes (@shooshlord)

There are some albums that can immediately transport you. Maybe you put on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and you feel like you’re making a night drive through the Midwest. Or, Waxahatchee’s American Weekend sounds like the soundtrack to a swampy, Southern evening spent by yourself smoking on the back porch. Some bands just write records that have a perfect vibe. NYC’s Looms is one of those bands.

Their new record The Way Up pays homage to classic country-western and twangy indie rock. If Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks jammed with Hank Williams, The Way Up sounds like the magic moment where they figured out how to make it work. It’s a clean guitar player’s daydream, complete with all the good things that come from when a group of highly skilled players do what they do best. There’s so much to love here: the warm, slightly overdriven vocals, the gorgeous harmonies, the chorus on the guitar leads, and the mesmerizing songwriting. On The Way Up, Looms find their groove and maintain it for a gorgeous, near-perfect ten songs. 

“Anew” begins immediately with these unassuming clean guitar arpeggios. When the band kicks in about fifteen seconds into the song, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s such a beautiful beginning for this record, introducing us to what makes Looms’ songs so special. And what might make them so special is the balance between all of the players. Nothing feels like it’s clashing here. Louis Cozza (drums) and A. Hammond Murray (bass) make a tight rhythm section, but still allow some wiggle room. The ensuing empty space is filled by Harry Morris Jr. (guitar) and Sharif Mekawy (vocals/guitar/keys), who write guitar parts as if they are completing each other’s sentences. Mekawy’s vocals have the perfect amount of slapback echo, which you can hear especially when the song drops out around the halfway point. “Anew” sets the tone for the record, and does an excellent job of revealing the band’s shuffling, carefree brand of songwriting. 

The second track on a record is often vital. If the first song is supposed to spark your interest, the second song should reel you in. And “Dead Time” is a perfect choice for a second song. It’s more upbeat than its predecessor, and the melody is an infectious earworm. There’s more of a desperation in this song, as opposed to the laid back attitude of “Anew.” During the second verse, Mekawy sings, “Dead time, brokenhearted / Dead time, on the move.” The phrase “dead time” carries that sort of open-ended despair that opens up the song to a flurry of possible meanings. We all probably have a different definition of “dead time,” and Mekawy & Co. allow us to contemplate that concept amidst a sea of gorgeous guitar leads and tape echo. 

Next, Looms offer up the mind-blowingly beautiful “Eclipse.” Opening up with a dark, minor chord progression on acoustic guitar, the song eventually opens up into a gorgeous, haunting melody. Sprinkled throughout the song are these gorgeous guitar leads from guitar legend Nels Cline. Complete with whammied-out notes and odd jumps to higher octaves, the solos in this song are likely to excite any guitar player. At the end of each chorus, Mekawy sings, “Hide inside a shadow as it passed / from the West.” These lines are brilliant, as they immediately conjure up a mental image for the listener. You imagine the singer (or yourself) alone, moving simultaneously with a shadow as it lengthens almost in a delicate dance. This is just damn good songwriting.   

“From a Roof” is a slower, more subdued song. However, it lacks none of the songwriting potency we’ve come to expect from Looms at this point. The groove constructed by Cozza and Murray compels the listener to sway from side the side. The guitar solo in this song, while not as spastic as those in “Eclipse,” is a gorgeous, swooning melody on par with Mekawy’s vocal hooks. “Master Plan” is a gloomy, but driving song. It sounds almost like when you start what will be an overnight drive around 7:30 PM, and it’s just starting to rain. You know you’re in for a long night. Indeed, Mekawy sings, “Feeling strange / Feeling the pain / Feeling tired / Feeling wide awake.” At the end, the song crescendos into a loud outro. The B3 swells and the crashing cymbals add some new textures to an already layered record.

“More of the Same” is hypnotically groovy, with an electric piano providing the backbone. When the chorus kicks in, the drums move to a plodding, floor tom beat. One of the great things about this record is that the songs all sound like they go together, but they’re structurally so varied. The end of this song features a stuttering jam, with the band starting and stopping in an almost syncopated rhythm. Indeed, there’s even some almost bluesy piano over the outro as well. There are moments on this record that let you know this band is not just capable of writing great songs, but they are also amazing players as well.

“Once Known” sounds almost like a b-side from Wilco’s A. M, but with Looms’ signature dreamy writing. The vocal melody is a little swampy, as if the band took a trip down Highway 51 to the gulf to write this song. In the main chord progression for the song, there’s this sort of hesitant moment where the melody is waiting to resolve. During this section, some strings come in and add to that anticipation. It’s a genius production move, and shows that the members of Looms have some tricks up their sleeves. “Three’s Company” sees the album taking another unpredictable turn, with the first half being maybe the most punk song on this record. Gone are the dreamy textures and arpeggios. This song is an all out rocker, complete with power chords and a driving, open hi hat beat. Eventually, the song opens into a folky/bluesy jam. Most records tend to have exhausted all their ideas five songs in. But, Looms are saving some of their weirdest, coolest moments for last. 

As the record is wrapping up, Looms shifts into “last call” mode. “Don’t Want A Thing” feels like a penultimate song, perhaps in how long it takes for the song to get to resolve. The verses don’t ever return to a root chord, so they feel almost suspended in midair. The bridge in this song likewise has a dreamy, midair quality, with the return of the swirling organs and string section. But, the song ends with this gorgeous, almost classical ten seconds of piano followed by just a sustained chord on the organ. It’s a gorgeous end to the song, sure to give any anyone goosebumps if they’re listening close. 

“What About When” is a slight shift in mood from the dreamy “Don’t Want A Thing,” but it leaves this record on an upbeat note. However, it’s just as unpredictable of a song as we’ve come to expect from Looms. The band describes themselves as dream punk, and this song fits that description exactly. The song opens with almost folksy, acoustic guitar driven verses. They eventually build it up into noisy, dissonant choruses, with Mekawy singing, “I can’t win / Let me in.” The song does this quiet-loud-quiet move several times before eventually ending on some shimmering chords run through a delay pedal (or maybe several). 

These ten songs feel almost outside of time. They have all the shimmer and shine of a modern indie rock record, but with the grit and songwriting chops of players from the 70s. It’s not quite of its time, but I feel right at home listening to it in 2019. Looms have tapped into something truly special.  

The Way Up, in many ways, feels like watching a band you never thought you’d discover in your small town’s local dive bar. The band takes the stage, and beginning with a few simple, but profound guitar arpeggios proceeds to take you somewhere you haven’t been in years. As you watch them play, you feel like you’re 18 years old again on a Saturday night. And you scrounged up enough money for a full tank of gas. And hell, you’ve decided that you’re just gonna drive.