Roommate – Make Like
Amid the devalued, ever-evolving music stream, most craft are bright and flashy yet flimsy and insubstantial, offering little more than brief respite from the waves before they dissolve into nothing or sink from view. Precious few craft give pause, feel solid or lovingly constructed, make you feel you could sail in them a while. Roommate‘s Make Like – which came to my attention thanks to a glowing review on Coke Machine Glow – has stood me in excellent stead for weeks now, its reassuringly lived-in, woody timbre holding me close like an old friend. I have no plans to abandon this ship anytime soon.
Roommate is the songwriting vehicle of Kent Lambert, now four albums deep. Kent and his band – including Sam Wagster on guitar, Gillian Lisée on bass, and Seth Vanek on drums – have brought all their sensitivity and expertise to bear on these eight songs. As much as I’m warming to their preceding albums – Songs The Animals Taught Us (2006), We Were Enchanted (2008) and Guilty Rainbow (2011) – the more I listen to Roommate’s discography, the more Make Like feels like a culmination of all that’s come before it – a distillation of an aesthetic and a refinement of purpose. Just shy of forty minutes, the album is astute, economical, meticulously performed and produced, and deeply affecting, both lyrically and musically. It’s a thoroughly satisfying whole, an unselfconsciously classic-sounding record with masterful segues and a neat division into two sides that no doubt rewards listening on vinyl (the album was mastered and cut by the legendary Rashad Becker). In what remains of 2015, it’s quickly assuming the same prominence in my life as Adult Jazz‘s Gist Is had in 2014.
What’s most beguiling is how the album reminds me of several other artists and bands I love without being obviously influenced by anything in particular. At moments I hear the measured cadence and melodic nous of early Shins; the aching piano-driven beauty of Automatic For The People-era REM; the stoic magic of the sorely missed Sparklehorse. However, its true beauty, and singularity, only reveals itself with intimacy.
Make Like gets its (secret) claws in early thanks to something as simple as a drum beat. Back in the early ’00s, I took a road trip across the US with my close friend Will. The album on continuous rotation during that trip was The Sebadoh, which kicks off with the great Jason Loewenstein song ‘It’s All You’. The drum beat that begins Make Like‘s opener ‘People On Screens’ is similarly catchy. Drum sounds tend to be fetishised to an absurd degree, but my instinctive response to this beat is to get fired up, ready to stick around for the duration.
As a commuter myself, the image of ‘People On Screens’ is all too familiar: half-asleep humans glued to their smartphones, unable to bear being alone with themselves, semi-engaged with shallow, distracting content. The song crams in enough devious production details (shakers, synths, effects) to make Spoon jealous, before building to an agitated crescendo of flanged guitars. Then, a segue into ‘Secret Claw’, which cements the feeling of experiencing something special, its eerie swells of brass and piano akin to a giant existential yawn.
Despite being one of the least musically dynamic tracks, ‘Dancer Howl’ is easily the most lyrically affecting – and seems to hold the key to the themes of the whole record: fear, dishonesty, redemption, all wrapped up in the mystery of human stupidity. Towards the song’s climax, as Gillian Lisée joins Lambert on vocals, handclaps crunching disconsolately behind them, the atmosphere is close to overwhelming. Rounding out the first side with peals of aching pedal steel, ‘Curses’ features a winning vibraphone and piano melody that vividly reminds me of something I can’t quite put my finger on (dEUS, perhaps?).
The first half of side two is unashamedly gorgeous. ‘Wilderness’ evolves from a desolate piano ballad into a delirious, widescreen extravaganza akin to The Besnard Lakes, before seguing into the fidgety ‘Old Golden’, with its anxious refrain, “I am choking on an old golden rule”. While the closing two songs took the longest to win me over, they end the album on an ambiguous note, inevitably sending me back to ‘People On Screens’; indeed, the lyrics of ‘Riot Size’ suggest this circularity with the lyrics, “Shiny things on tiny screens inviting us to fight, to justify”. Plus, the way ‘Tri Twi’ weaves its tapestry of jazzy flutes and wah-wah guitar suggests a hazy, cinematic dissolve, leaving one indelible line to ponder at the album’s climax: “I’ve been you / One day you will have been me, too”.
A thread of heartening resilience runs through Make Like‘s atmosphere of confusion and frustration, while the balance it sustains between the widescreen and the intimate rewards repeat listens with fresh revelations. Ultimately, perhaps the single enduring idea I take away from this extraordinary album is a line from ‘Dancer Howl’: “Don’t make like hate, when you’re really just afraid”.
Make Like is available now on cassette, vinyl and digital download.