It is not uncommon for indie rock and anxiety to intertwine. Somewhere along the way it was determined that guitar-driven, emotive, understated rock songs work well as the soundtrack of mental crisis. It’s a sound Seattle knows well, evidenced in its latest incarnation on Sloucher’s debut EP, Certainty.
Sloucher is steeped in Northwest indie-rock bona fides; members of the band have played in other local acts including Hibou, the Globes, and Makeup Monsters. They even held the launch party for Certainty on the patio of Rancho Bravo on Capitol Hill, and nothing’s more quintessentially “Seattle indie rock” than Rancho Bravo.
Aside from a little twang here and there, the band certainly isn’t breaking the mold that it has inherited, yet it has found a way to encompass the city’s modern musical heritage without sounding redundant. This is an update to the early approach of Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill, bands that used emotional catharsis in lieu of blustering theatrics. There may be the occasional hint of distortion or watery vocal effects—on the song “Dreams,” for instance—but for the most part Sloucher steers clear of bombast.
Instead the band members channel their efforts into masterful arrangments and nuanced performances, each track on the record built on an often undeniable hook. The title track playfully swings back and forth on the verses before opening up into a beautiful drawn-out chorus. Vocalist and drummer Jay Clancy has the ideal indie-rocker voice, ranging from a low coo to a high, airy howl. Each song feels as if it could soundtrack a poignant moment in a coming-of-age film.
Each song also digs into the stresses and disquiets of the modern day. It’s a quarter-life-crisis affair, with relatable quotables. On opener “Waiting to Start,” Clancy sings about staying in a dark room on a sunny day, contemplating the state of his life. “I wanna take my world, make it something beautiful,” he bellows on the chorus, “but I’m stuck in a rut.” It’s a notion that could apply to most 20-somethings, or even former 20-somethings—a hopeless feeling that doesn’t seem to go away. Guitarist Kyle Musselwhite’s stuttering guitar lines play into this apathetic feeling, interrupting like speed bumps within the groove of the song.
“Flower Girl” opens with a snapping snare and a slowly building feedback drone before a clean and short guitar lick comes in. A slide guitar chimes in the background, lightening the mood as the lyrics maintain a sense of self-dread. The bridge is the musical wrench, swirling into a menacing minor shift before lifting back into the bright verses. The music flirts with something more manic and furious, but never loses that placid discontent. That contrast between the bright and beleaguered is at the heart of this band. For instance, the upbeat “Constant Questions” contains troubled lines like “Paint a picture of my mental health, take it or leave it” and “Searching for something mostly leads to nothing.”
While closer “Bigger Than Me” allows the band to delve fully into angst with low-end guitar strums looming in the background, the EP mostly maintains a delicate balance between pleasant and edgy, exuding charm throughout the seven tracks, but nowhere more so than on “Dear.” It’s a downright wholesome affair, with a simple country drum pattern and clunky acoustic-guitar plucking.
Bands of Seattle’s past may haunt this record, but the trio is casting that familiar sound in its own image. It won’t be long before new bands are looking back at Sloucher for inspiration. Listen to all of Certainty here.