Valleys – Sometimes Water Kills People

Valleys - Sometimes Water Kills People

If the title of this Montreal duo’s debut is any indication of the moods contained therein, this is probably not the album to spin at your next cocktail party or day at the beach. Valleys – the moniker donned by collaborators Marc St. Louis and Matilda Perks – specializes in a ghostly and frequently unsettling blend of psychedelic folk and hazy dream pop. The band’s most intimate moments recall the nocturnal slowcore stylings of Low, with occasional waves of droning feedback that emulate the mercurial habits of Yo La Tengo. It’s a chilling and startling listen, even if the amplifiers never do get cranked up to ten. If misery loves company, then cozying up to this record might feel like just the remedy for your ills. Hopefully you’re not too bummed out though; while this is undoubtedly beautiful music, it’s also pretty damn bleak.

The sleazily titled “Killer Legs” opens with a hypnotic guitar part of interwoven rhythms and looping countermelodies as Marc and Matilda coo, “You’ve been shadowboxing in the fog.” After nearly a minute and a half of hazy atmosphere, the rhythmic drive is upended and things turn somber; an acoustic guitar plods along tentatively as some bluesy melody fragments moan and wail with echo. Just when it seems like the song is going to fade away as it’s enveloped by darkness, an unexpected burst of white-hot feedback tears the texture wide open, allowing for heaps of guitar and keyboard drones to smolder as a bass drum pulses ominously beneath. Even in these early moments of the album, the tactful display of textural variation and tension and release is obvious, and its continuous application keeps emotions at an arresting level of intensity and the remaining songs refreshingly unpredictable.

“Tan Lines” is another high point in the album’s first half, featuring jarring electric dissonance over fragile acoustic work. Oddly sexual lyrics (“Do this for me one last time / I promise I will keep my clothes on / never ask you again / never ask you again”) are interspersed with sputtering hand drum rhythms and vaporous squeals of dissonance. The diverse palette of offerings is also heard on “The Heavy Dreamer,” where kitschy video game percussion is blended with aching slide guitar and increasingly abrasive synthesizers. Meanwhile, the gauzy, lethargic vocals and clickety-clack percussion of “Slow Path” suggest the innocence of a child’s daydream.

If there are indeed any comparisons to be made with indie vets Yo La Tengo, it comes during the six-minute “CR68C.” A deftly handled balance of organic beauty and mechanized noise, the tune is defined by its mysterious ambience: sultry acoustic guitar melodies and caterwauling stabs of high-frequency noise squalls.

You could argue that there aren’t enough differing emotions on this record, that for all of the experimental twists they take, Valleys still seems weighed down by a brooding sense of doom. It’s a plausible suggestion, given lyrics like the ones on closing track “The Breakers”: “There’s a crack on the ceiling / and a bruise on my chest. The xx, critical darlings of the moment, also excel at this sleepy, perpetually gloomy music. But if the acclaim surrounding the London band’s bittersweet indie electronica is warranted, than Valleys is just as deserving of a spot in the limelight. Give it a listen, but do so without the shades drawn.