With little else to do beyond staring at a wall and quietly losing the plot during a global pandemic, Undersmile has done what many of us have done to keep sane – they’ve indulged in a little nostalgia, headed up to the attic and had a dig through their archives. Presumably, somewhere in the dark depths the band found an ornate wooden box covered in spiderwebs, and decided to peer inside. It’s there (or more likely, in a folder on a hard drive, but hey, that’s hardly helpful for mood setting) that they found a handful of demos previously lost to the ages. The songs that populate this EP date back to 2006, a time before the existence of Undersmile, when vocalist/guitarists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona Brown were writing songs for their band Ursa Minor. These songs were eventually recorded in 2012 but for some reason never quite found their way out. It seems that now is the time.
For those unfamiliar with Undersmile, they make slow, emotional and sometimes a little frightening doom. Their intense However the flip side to Undersmile is an outlet that the band christened Coma Wall. In this guise, they’re stripped back to acoustic instrumentation, removing the weighty bombast of distortion and drumming. The result is an interesting exercise in emotional cause and effect, because the result of both approaches utilised by the band illicit a similar response in the listener despite the variance in attack.
As Coma Wall, the band has a lot more room to breathe. They’re not as concerned with pummelling their audience into submission, instead, they have to rely on the interaction between the twin vocals of Sterne and Corona Brown as they twist around the simple guitar lines. Interestingly, some of the themes covered seem to be oddly prescient. Breathe In The Ether in particular sees to have been written specifically with current world events in mind as it conjures up images of bodies writhing, unable to breathe as fires are being set all over town. Kicking off with a simplistic guitar line and a pulsing bass, it’s down to the vocals of Sterne and Corona Brown to make the impact as their words are delivered with a passion that somehow manages to be both urgent and lethargic.
The interaction of their vocals is what makes their songs so effective, they snake around each other, finding unusual resonances. Coma Wall is a two-headed beast acting with a hive mind. These are not individual performances their vocals need each other to work, they draw the emotion and the performance from each other. At times there’s an occasional nod to early Throwing Muses, particularly on the closing moments of Wire Taps, but these songs really have their roots in the darker side of folk. Already Dead feels apocalyptic, with ideas of escape (outer space, water, dreams) juxtaposed with decay and disaster. Opposition is a key ingredient to Coma Wall’s approach, it’s there in their lyrics, and in the way their sparse and open songs can feel claustrophobic. They have the ability to make the personal feel universal. So whilst it might appear that that Coma Wall has inadvertently written an EP for these times a good 14 years in advance, their themes would easily resonate with someone experiencing crisis back in 2006. These are songs for all time.
Release Date: August 28, 2020