ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
For the past couple of years, Los Angeles-based, dream pop outfit Chasms, aka Shannon Sky Madden and Jess Labrador, have been put through the wringer. Culminating in a recent move to their current residency in L.A. from their Bay Area abode, Chasms sought to escape the painful reminder of the tragedy that unraveled on the night of December 2, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Among the 36 individuals who perished in The Ghost Ship fire that night was Madden’s younger brother Griffin and a dear friend of Chasms, Cash Askew of the band Them Are Us Too.
Emerging from the other end of this emotional torment scathed but not defeated, Madden and Labrador tapped into their shared heartache to convey loss through their dreary brand of dream-pop. As a result, the band’s sophomore album, The Mirage is effectively pensive, musically expansive, and deeply meditative on the heartbreak and adversity we as humans are subjected to on a daily basis. And yet, Chasms remain true to their dream-like blueprint despite the tragedy that overwhelmed them just over two years ago.
Painfully reflective of death, the duo’s latest is a natural, but profound extension of their sound that had already conveyed a palpable sense of longing of the past. Though loss and death weigh in the back of the duo’s minds this time around, The Mirage aims to encompass listeners with vibrancy and celebration of life, which seems fleeting when someone so close to you passes.
Though Chasms’ ethereal style remains relatively unchanged from their debut album (not to discount their industrial-tinged beginnings), the duo peels back their affinity toward traditionally recorded, reverb-drenched guitars—synonymous with shoegaze and dream pop— opting for cascading flourishes of echoing, dub techniques in a similar vein as Slowdive. With this slight shift in production choice, the band’s usual snappy drum samples are intensified to crushing levels, while Labrador’s celestial soprano is allowed to roam through these expansive compositions without much competition.
Navigating emotions of isolation and the deep pain that tends to creep through the crevices of this LP, its mournful but spiritual essence is exemplified through the magnificently produced ‘Shadow’. Cutting through the track’s percussive immensity— thunderous tom samples and pulverizing drum kicks— Sky Madden’s gloomy bass and Labrador’s shimmering guitar blend the lines between reality and a grief-stricken illusion. Transfixed by duo’s cast spell, listeners will hardly notice the vastness of ‘Shadow,’ causing the track’s seven minutes to feel like a fever dream and a captivating eternity all at one.
The entrancing dream realm Chasms conjures with ‘Shadow’ soon dissipates into electronic shrapnel with the heavily dubbed ‘Every Heaven in Between’. This cut is an atmospheric stunner that brandishes simple but hard-hitting dance beats, while Labrador’s layered vocals soar, calling for spirits of loved ones to one day walk the earth again.
Following the same effective formula through the remainder of the album, <em>The Mirage</em> concludes with a re-worked version of ‘Divine Illusion’, which came out just last year. To fit the sleepy melancholy of the rest of the record, the duo decided to slow the original pace by a considerable amount, allowing ample space for listeners to really feel the slowly palpitating drums, Madden’s steady bass line and of course, Labrador's yearnful voice amidst uncertainty, as she cries out once more to those who have passed on, “Show me a light/ In the blackest sky/ Speak to me/ From the other side/ Whisper to me/ That my dreams don’t lie.”
Even without not knowing the proximity of The Ghost Ship Fire to the lives of Madden and Labrador prior to listening to The Mirage, it’s rather easy to gauge the kind of emotion synonymous with the tragedy of losing people so near and dear. All this to say, by way of devising atmospheres that are dismal, but never bleak and lyrics pulled directly from their heart, Chasms’ latest offering proves that no matter who you are and what you do, your most personal work is your best. Though the Bay-area bred band has floated under the radar and their discography remains relatively bare, Chasms’ sophomore release will stand as a viable dream-pop vessel of sheer emotion, but a mere semblance of pain that we as listeners could never fully grasp.
THE 405 RATING: 7/10