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Album Review: Valaska ‘Inchoate’


If you’ve been aching for an ambient and dreamy bout of indie-rock, look no further than Chicago-based outfit Valaska’s new album ‘Inchoate’. It’ll be a new addition to your chill playlist, lulling you into a relaxed rest or to ride out those melancholic mornings after. This is the band’s third album, after ‘Thing’ and ‘Natural Habitat’, and sees the band employ a lot more of the atmospheric sounds that were touched upon in ‘Thing’, but they have also lost some of the acoustic swell that can be found in ‘Natural Habitat’.

Opening track, Spring kicks the album off with a blast. A snare-heavy beat is the driving force, while the jangling guitars set the tripletted rhythm. The bass lines up with the rhythm guitar perfectly, adding another layer to rock track that builds nicely though the soaring choruses.

However, as if to show the complete range of diverse tones early on the album, the second track Hold Me Back wanders slowly, with far more thought and emotion through a series of soft note changes. The drums are centre stage for most of the track with an interesting syncopated beat that’s emphasised by an effect that gives a detached sound (like each drum is being played in separate rooms). The track also shows off a softly stirring synthesiser tone which swirls around the background of the track.

Vessel sounds like it wants to spread its wings and take off, and it’s only at the very end where all of the elements come together and its able to take flight. The song starts with a subtle piano motif, but then launches into the wall of sound centred around a guitar riff. The drumkit has an interesting effect, muted and thumping bass drum paired with a fully mic-ed up snare and cymbal rack. At times in the verses it can feel jarring, but it is hardly noticeable in the choruses.

The guitars are treated with a full reverb effect in the chorus that gives a grand sound, and conversely the rhythm guitars are turned down to nearly inaudible in the verses. The vocals and lyrics paint a very melancholic picture throughout the track, complimented by a reverberating guitar outro that sounds like it’s longing for a happier day.

Violence and Ghost see the vocal lines given more room to breath, taking the limelight from the lead guitar which has been told emphatically to take a backseat. In Violence the vocals in verses are slightly more subdued than in the choruses, and one of the more interesting riffs of the album is somewhat contrasted to the otherwise dreamy finger-plucking that rolls through the background of the track. Ghosts builds slowly throughout until it starts to take a more pop sound with strong backbeat driven cymbal splashiness that’s nicely opposed with long drawn out guitar notes forming a final solo.

The piano takes control in Sad Bones, with the other instruments slowly building around a soft keyboard line and vocals. Harmonies and a faint guitar mirroring of the piano riff enter, but they quickly exit again, drawing attention to the piano and vocals. In the second half of the track all other instrumentation returns, as the vocals fade out, with the piano and guitar passing the rhythmic drive back and forth.

One of the most interesting tracks on the album is Sun Dogs. Due to its slight departure from the more layered sounds in the album. An acoustic guitar accompanies deeply reverberating vocals in this short track, creating an expansive ambience that is only lightly populated with soft sounds. Frontman Dave Valdez’s singing seems to channel an isolated vocal track from Kim Churchill, but with a more pained and melancholic whisper, possibly more akin to Gang of Youths’ Kansas.

Following on from Sun Dogs, Human Condition and Minor move away from the ambient sounds that are washing through all of the earlier tracks. Acoustic guitars and simpler vocals make Human Condition slightly more upbeat and hopeful than many of the other melancholic sounds in the other songs. Minor seems like the bridge between the more acoustic, stripped back tracks and the more ambient and textural numbers on the album. Still rooted in hollow-sounding, subdued guitars, this track has a lead guitar line that creates a smooth and quiet dreaminess that reflects some of the earlier tracks.

Finally, Sleep rounds out the album with an uplifting tone. The vocal harmonies in this final track are some of the best on the album, and the slow crescendo building towards the end leaves you feeling warm and hopeful. This last resonating note contrasts to the mostly melancholic sounds that are prevalent throughout the previous offerings.

‘Inchoate’, as a term, refers to something that is incomplete, or not yet fully formed. Valaska have sonically presented listeners with that incompleteness. The album is full of great ideas and stunning sounds, however at times they can come across slightly jarred and out of place, such as the overemphasised bass drum in a number of tracks.

Stand out tracks like Ghost and Sun Dogs take the approach of looking at sounds breaking out of the indie rock mould. However, overall ‘Inchoate’ (as an album) is a very relaxed and atmospheric dose of melancholy and occasional uplift, which makes it a solid offering for a quiet weekend afternoon, or a rainy evening.

Album Rating: 3

Alaska Inchoate

Written by Max Higgins