Subterranea is deep
Say what you will about the current state of the world: it’s become an absolute goldmine for indie artists looking to reflect on how insane and absurd modern life has become. Subterranea, the 2nd full album from Calgary-based indie rockers Sunglaciers, is a perfect example of this.
Subterranea holds a dark post-punk-meets-psychedelic mirror up to life in the 2020s. The prevailing themes are of isolation, loneliness, repressed anger, and an overall feeling of living an unfilled life without meaning. In doing so, it reflects a core unease that will likely resonate with many listeners: We’re all living this unsustainable life, but with no clear way of fixing anything, is it better to just go with the flow?
In many ways, Subterranea is an ode to embracing Goblin Mode… while still resenting of the necessity of doing so.
And the way how, at times, the music seems to recall the work of Goblin – that is, the 70s dark synthprog band known for their horror movie scores – only makes that comparison seem more apt, if possibly unintentionally.
The range of musical influences on Subterranea range widely, although it most often resembles 2000s goth mixed with 90s industrial, with a smattering of grimy darkwave synth work. Other influences range from VNV Nation to The Cure. The standout elements are Evan Resnik’s dramatic vocals, as well as absolutely insane expressive drumming that mixes live and programmed work. Resnik has surprising range in his tones, often taking on a somewhat ‘nasal’ sound typical of goth-industrial bands, but also capable of more standard lyrical delivery when needed.
The album’s opener, Negative Ways, perfectly encapsulates their tone, style, and message from its opening moments. A brief 80s synth swoosh gives way to a plaintive solo vocal: “I’m a temporary uplifter, seeking something incidental,” describing how he’s “alive in all the negative ways” and a “temporary shape-shifter” with a chasm within, as programmed drums tap away in the background.
This theme of seeking external relief while suppressing inner anger saturates the album. The way that nearly all the tracks have a feeling of being repressed, and held back, only adds to the overall cohesion of the album. Then, on the final vocal track Cause/Effect, the album explodes into a fury of production and sound – a perfect climax to an album which actually embraces the album format in a way many single-focused releases no longer do.
It isn’t all complete doom-and-gloom. In the midsection are a handful of tracks that feel a bit lighter, like Glue, which is inspired by 60s pop – but subverts it: “Hey mom, look at me, I’m exactly what you feared I’d be.” Likewise, Draw Me In starts with a surprisingly pretty dreampop intro, before exploring a life going nowhere, day by day.
The lyrics are often just as dense as the music, thoughtful and intelligent. This isn’t mindless rage; it’s mindful rage. This is music for people who fully understand their situation, and chafe under it.
If there’s a criticism of Subterranea, it’s only that it starts to feel a bit drawn-out by the end of its already-brief 35-minute run. The album is so successful at establishing its themes and ideas early on that there isn’t much room to evolve, aside from the glorious climax in “Cause/Effect.” Some of the darkwave tracks do run together, although there’s enough variety to keep it from feeling completely monotonous.
Overall, Subterranea is easy to recommend to existing fans of goth, postpunk, and darkwave – but it will also almost certainly vibe with anyone feeling completely adrift and unfulfilled in the digital era.