REVIEW ROUND-UP: Carpool Tunnel, Dreamwell, CHROMA

Artwork for Carpool Tunnel’s ‘Don’t Let Them Pass You By’

Carpool Tunnel

Don’t Let Them Pass You By

Carpool Tunnel’s Bloom was a good album…probably. The truth is that it hasn’t really stuck at all since its release in 2021, but as a breezy, lightweight, generally affable indie-rock / power-pop album with a heavy emphasis on soft-focus presentation, it can’t have been that bad, right? Well, no, but the lack of any longterm penetration can’t just be swept aside, in what’s a fairly endemic problem among music of this stripe. The defence of ‘vibe music for a singular moment’ is often wheeled out, but, suitably, doesn’t carry much weight. There has to be some degree of longevity—or if nothing else, the intent of it—for any greater favour, and it’s difficult to say that Don’t Let Them Pass You By even has that.

It’s not irredeemable either, that should be stressed. If nothing else, Carpool Tunnel’s command of melody never gets bogged down by unnecessary fluff or sonic filler. It’s the modern interpretation of yacht-rock that retains a briskness and warmth to complement the overall mild tone…which is hardly the most riveting descriptor, is it? Indeed, Don’t Let Them Pass You By clearly fields some issues with standout features or formulating emotional extremes in either direction. In the case of the former, they are there in the more bracing hook of Holding On, Letting Go and the swaying classic-pop gauze of Moon Song and Driving To The Moon, though that’s effectively an exhaustive list. Elsewhere, there’s a formula to Carpool Tunnel’s work that pitches itself in jovial, high-bounce indie-pop or a slower, satin-draped take on that with little deviation. It’s incredibly cut-and-dry throughout.

And though that’ll be enough for some—the elements that made Best Coast or The Drums work in earlier incarnations are still here—there’s just something about Don’t Let Them Pass You By that feels so docile throughout. There’s not a rough edge to be found in this presentation, nor is there the sense that Carpool Tunnel have the willingness to explore or extrapolate further than what’s already presented. It’s how you get a lyrical conceit that seldom reaches beyond being passable for this kind of album, with a love-and-loss arc to broadly sketch out the summer fling that, in true-enough fashion at the end, don’t mean a thing. And with so little to grip onto or find deeper resonance in, Don’t Let Them Pass You By’s ephemeral qualities are more a hindrance than a feature.

Again, there is stuff to like about this, though that’s predicated on being able to remember it, which is a far more out-there suggestion. Even from a standpoint of objective critique solely of what’s presented, that doesn’t have a lot to go on either when Don’t Let Them Pass You By is rooted in some very staid musical ideas. This doesn’t feel like the kind of album designed to travel a far distance, and rather than working on that or trying to subvert it, Carpool Tunnel are just along for the ride. In other words, they’ve seemingly bought into ‘vibe music for a singular moment’ as a creative shorthand, a decision which ultimately speaks for itself.

For fans of: Best Coast, The Drums, Beach Fuzz

‘Don’t Let Them Pass You By’ by Carpool Tunnel is released on 20th October on Pure Noise Records.

Artwork for Dreamwell’s ‘In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You’


In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You

In the tradition of the most bloodied, battered hearts making terrific music, Dreamwell expressly arrive to leave some pretty deep marks. Theirs are in the vein of Touché Amoré’s particular flaying on Stage Four, an album that has yet to be bested in emotional hardcore, though not for want of trying. It’s just been difficult for all since to match the same expertly crafted cross-section between visceral self-rending and an executional power and precision to get it working to the max. Dreamwell, then, are the latest to step up to the plate, though there’s also an inkling that In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You is trying to shoot even further.

It’s a grander ordeal overall, where a lot of the emotional hardcore base is augmented by black-metal and old-school screamo, to really widen this particular flavour of bleakness into a more blanketing, all-devouring force. It’s effective as all hell too, from the icepick lunges of guitar that’ll crop up among an already whirling maelstrom, to the dread and discord that lingers around All Towers Drawn In The Equatorial Room and Blighttown Type Beat, to the production with its hardened, varnished textures to amplify the overall scale. It’s definitely a big-feeling album, in the sense of a gaping maw brandishing its own darkness rather than anything anthemic or opulent. KZ Staska’s vocals ensure that, in which their screams have the razorblade accents to leave your average larynx mangled beyond belief, though it’s all in service of Dreamwell’s own vitality and rigour.

It’s an overbearing listen at the best of times, completely by design. It’s what these albums do best, after all, with In My Saddest Dreams…’s approximation coming from nightmares and disassociations at the hands of Borderline Personality Disorder, spilling over into the narrations relationships with others and themself. As a result, there’s a certain unkempt nature to where Dreamwell are coming from, where any kind of censoring or omitting would do a disservice to how raw the sensations at play are. Thus, In My Saddest Dreams… can feel a little overlong and overweight, but never to where Dreamwell’s vision become cluttered. If anything, it’s directly because of that vision and how well it emulates a tangled, uncertain mindset that’s never easily rectified. It just proceeds via its own desolate means, as the darkness and chaos continues to envelop in such an unstoppable way.

And by the end of it all…well, Stage Four is yet to be dethroned in this field just yet, but Dreamwell are also travelling down different avenues with their own distinct characteristics. They’re striving for something more insular in its dismality that’s not easy to translate into wider means. And while that mightn’t have the same immediacy, that probably wouldn’t be as beneficial to Dreamwell anyway. They deliberately leave in knots to trace and untangle, and even if the act of doing so might prove fruitless in the end, that’s ultimately the point. This kind of raw expulsion often doesn’t have an easy answer, and Dreamwell are handy proponents of how thrilling that scenario can really be.

For fans of: Touché Amoré, Svalbard, Botch

‘In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You’ by Dreamwell is released on 20th October on Prosthetic Records.

Artwork for CHROMA’s ‘Ask For Angela’


Ask For Angela

For as well-loved as the stratum of conscious, non-male-centred indie and alt-rock is—i.e. in certain circles, it might just surpass water and oxygen in terms of a basic human need—a revamp never hurts. It’s only a good thing if you want to fend off the staleness that can be a very real inclement threat, ideally while keeping the keeping the same general mood and feel in place. So in come CHROMA with their debut Ask For Angela, ready to do exactly that. It’s actually rather startling to see just how capable they are at elbowing to the front of the line on their first crack, but you also couldn’t really ask for a better candidate than this.

That’s because CHROMA’s efforts present themselves as exactly what’s needed—an approach to this very familiar ideal that could easily slot amongst the existing crop, but has that crucial piece of added oomph to do more. In this case, it’s a beefier rock sound at the base, reliant on full-fat riffs in the vein of early Royal Blood (y’know, when they also had something to offer) with even more tightness to hand. It first comes to light in earnest on Girls Talk between the stormy, cyclical riff and an almost dance-punk progression in the drums, while built up later on by the garage-punk shudder of Woman To Woman and Bombs Away, or the bared-fangs throttle of Life’s A Bitch. Parallels also get drawn to bands like Tigercub or VANT—namely a brand of classic rock that stands staunchly independent from particular movements—but CHROMA don’t shy away from the poppiness that grounds them firmly and excellently.

A good bit of that can be attributed to Katie Hall as a vocalist, but even then, it’s more timbre than technique. Her sharper, higher register is a very familiar one, but there’s a roughness in how it’s styled that elevates her by a fair amount. It’s part punk fire-branding, part quaking, grimacing dejection of a young person in the 21st Century. And for lyrics that display a sense of humanity so prominently, it’s exactly what you want in order to hit those highs. Perspectives on feminism and interpersonal relationships with other women on Girls Talk and Woman To Woman hit hard; so do vignettes on powering through anxiety on Don’t Wanna Go Out and being there for strangers to vent and unload on Head In Transit. In CHROMA’s depiction of a UK where everyone’s miserable and suffering in their own mind, they deliver their screeds with some necessary voltage.

It’s just a much more impactful take than you might otherwise find in indie-rock or indie-punk; CHROMA feel a lot less constrained within that box than a lot of their contemporaries. And while there’s still a place for that, it’s nice to hear an album like Ask For Angela that’s willing to throw itself in more vigour. The results don’t life, after all—this is the kind of debut that most bands would pray for, where CHROMA not only perfectly establish themselves, but also seemingly determine where the future standards are set. Maybe it’s a little early to make that definitive claim, but every chance is there.

For fans of: Royal Blood, Tigercub, Dream Nails

‘Ask For Angela’ by CHROMA is released on 20th October on Alcopop! Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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