There’s a strong sense of displacement running throughout Below the House. In order for the third Planning For Burial album to come into being, Thom Wasluck relocated from New Jersey to his childhood home in the mountains of Pennsylvania. In our interveiw, Wasluck described the setting as isolating. It worked well for buckling down and getting some work done, but one wonders what the place had to offer beyond that. Wasluck also revealed to me that the title came to him in a dream. It’s in reference to feeling as if you’re hiding who you truly are and what you’re feeling from the rest of the world. Wasluck pulls off that sense of detachment through the world’s first bedroom doom album.
I’m not sure if Thom knows what he has on his hands here, but there’s next-level metal production at work. More likely, he probably doesn’t care about zeitgeist shifts (as if metal even has a zeitgeist to shift). The attention to detail and craft create nothing short of a headphones album. A phenomenon that happens far too infrequently in metal. Whispers unexpectedly pass through the channels and screams are buried at the center of feedback hisses. There’s a delicate balance between all-enveloping, abrasive atmospheres and gentle stillness, which is fully displayed on “Whiskey & Wine”. Heavy doomed-out guitars play along with a variety of bells and ambience only to give in to pleading triangle. On the second track, “Threadbare” the main riff gradually deteriorates into feedback and makes way for gentle pianos to carry the melody. Most of these songs are not built into climaxes. Instead, Wasluck pounds away at the granite slab in search of resolutions.
Most impressive of all is how Wasluck treats shoegaze. Wasluck doesn’t just twiddle around with some affect pedals, track the song, then smear distortion over his vocals. Below the House is four walls and a ceiling of sonic architecture. In the mix, Wasluck takes on a certain agoraphobia and resides in the basement. He does plenty of screaming throughout the course of the album, but the vocals never feel confrontational or overbearing. His screams register as muffled traumas permeating from your next-door neighbor’s home. His cleans are the much needed heart-to-hearts in the aftermath.
Below the House is intimate, but to a point. Wasluck let’s you in on his world, but listeners are only allowed to observe the emotional collapse. In that way, the writing takes cues from Phil Elverum. What Below the House has in common with, like say, The Glow Pt. 2 or Clear Moon are the vague and cryptic lyrics. Like with Elverum, you don’t always know what Wasluck is trying to say (Wasluck isn’t one for clarity, anyway), but you know it’s of the upmost importance. Wasluck does not fully open up to us until the second half.
His grand reveal is made with the surprisingly groove oriented “Warmth of You”. The track is held together by a driving bass line that brings to mind peak Stone Roses. Not only that, but the synths and emotions presented are right out of The Cure’s Disintegration. Wasluck spends a large portion of the song crooning “I’m trying/ I tried/ I tried/ I tried” and “I wanted you/ I needed you”. The song demands a Robert Smith feature. Wasluck is able to balance these goth pop influences with his own vision by including walls of distortion kicking in just before the chorus and simultaneous blasts of noise in the background. “Warmth of You”, like the rest of the album, retains an introspective quality to it, but it’s aimed at the dance floor.
Throughout the album, Wasluck is searching for connection. That yearning fully materializes with the album highlight, “Dull Knife Pt. 2”. The production is at it’s simplest and Wasluck is at his most plain spoken. Unlike everything offered up thus far, we’re introduced with gentle acoustic guitar strums and hushed vocals. The lyrics do not offer much more than “Call me back home”, but nothing else is necessary. Wasluck emotes in a way that sounds defeated, exhausted, and broken while a slow and meloncholic dirge builds around him. Just when you think he’s going to bury his head in the mix again, more voices come up from the floorboards.
Wasluck is treated as the focal point, but it’s the backing vocals that allow the track to ascend. It’s no surprise that an album so focused on isolation is at it’s best when others are around. It’s important to note that Wasluck didn’t employ just a random choir group for hire or studio musicians. The backing vocals are contributed by members of Have A Nice Life, King Woman, and many more. These voices belong to his friends coming to his aid to help carry the load. Those extra voices are the key to all of this. Human beings are social creatures. So, tear down the house. You weren’t made to go it alone.
Below the House is out 3/10. Pre-order it from The Flenser.