Like thread weaved across a loom, Fear of Men’s first full length LP is complexly layered, yet when viewed as a piece, it appears cosmetically singular. On an aesthetic level, Loom is an utterly captivating dream pop record, and it is evident from its first confident, patient notes that Loom is in exceptionally capable hands, subconsciously moved by exceptionally self-aware minds. Amidst an oneiric sea of reverb and distortion, lead singer and songwriter Jessica Weiss is a lucid and attentive navigator, and even though these are ostensibly much treaded waters (by everyone from R.E.M. to Sonic Youth to Grouper), Fear of Men offers a uniquely sui generis experience on Loom. Despite their apparent familiarity in terms of form and sound, these songs seem mythically uncomposed, as if they come from some deeper place, fully formed in Fear of Men’s collective unconsciousness. Perhaps that’s why Loom seems at once so life-affirming despite its prominent themes of anxiety and existential dread; Loom’s idioms are deeply affective not despite their familiarity, but because of their primal, archetypal, elemental relatability.
Lyrically, Loom overflows with water metaphors, which on paper may seem overwhelmingly trite, but what is expressed here (and how it is expressed) is as vital as that slippery substance itself:
You will never leave me
As long as I inter you with my bones
Trust in me completely
Show me there’s no world outside our own”—Waterfall
““Fall asleep in the green
Under the waves
Til the birds steal the liver I grew
Fall asleep in the green
Until my eyes paint me pictures of you”—Green Sea
“You say I’m a seer I see nothing
You say I’m a seer
Walking on the water sip and talking
eyes aren’t open, eyes aren’t open
Do you know what to do when you’re on your own”—Seer
Existence on this planet—like a raging cascade—is tumultuous, and in time, its vivifying water will devour us all, but there is a way out; or rather, there is a way through. We may will not occupy these bodies forever, but through materialization of our dreams, we can cope with that which is inevitable. On Loom, Fear of Men—for it isn’t just Weiss’s lyrics that clearly profess its themes—addresses age-old quandaries of mortality, yet never quite arrives at a clear conclusion because existence, even though it is finite, isn’t always about conclusions. Perhaps, it is about trust (Waterfall), or perhaps about feeling buried under pressure (Green Sea), or perhaps about examining our innate knowledge of how we get along (Seer).
It is not surprising that Weiss cites writers like Sigmund Freud, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, and Anais Nin as prime influences. In an interview with music blog the Dumbing of America, Weiss explains Fear of Men’s general visual aesthetic and philosophy: “We’re very into archival documentation and classical imagery, which started off when I was interested in Egyptian statues after reading Freud’s ideas of the Uncanny, where he sees statues as a way to mourn for ourselves and our impermanence.” Fear of Men indeed channel these influences through Loom, but never does it sound like it rips off or decontextualizes clichéd classical platitudes; Loom isn’t a manifesto or a term paper, it is part of a philosophical conversation on what it means to be human. When pulled apart a bit and examined at these three layers: aesthetic, lyrical, philosophical, Loom reveals more than may be initially apparent or even imagined.
So, then, what is Loom’s lasting impression? What is its contribution to this seemingly circular conversation on life and death? What is left of us when our bodies become one with that which mythically gave us life? For Fear of Men, as interpreted through Freud, it seems that at least ideas can last; man’s great works of art certainly outlive their creators. And what Fear of Men have rendered with Loom is a rare masterpiece, a work of pure genius that is profound not because it challenges or redefines human existence, but because it outlines its physical limits, and transcends them.
Like lucid dreaming, which gives the dreamer the power to determine what happens in the dark recesses of their brain come R.E.M. time, the lucid dream-pop that British trio Fear of Men produce on their full-length debut album Loom forsakes inexplicability for control. Lead singer Jessica Weiss, who met guitarist Daniel Falvey at an exhibition featuring her ambient-focused soundtrack work, has a tight grip on the reins of these deceivingly bright pop songs. Their melodies and lilt are direct descendants of 90s jangle pop and twee, but Weiss has a lot more on her mind than the usual knock-kneed longing.
This was already apparent on the odds-n-ends collection Early Fragments, whose “Seer” and “Green Sea” show up again amongst a number of other similar-sounding songs on Loom. “Green Sea” in particular is a fine example of the kind of lyrical turmoil Weiss excels at, with birds that “steal the liver I grew,” boys who “push the splinter deeper,” and a unstoppable tide that drives the helpless woman out past the point of rescue. The recurring aquatic imagery is effective (that tide will pop up many more times before the album’s end), and Weiss is capable of some choice lines that break form (“You will never leave me, as long as I inter you with my bones”). Over the course of the album though, the repetitive lyrical structure and themes and the lack of any truly memorable vocal melodies tends to dull the lyrical wit by eroding each line’s impact.
Stray snippets of musical abrasion help spike the album’s running time with a sense of danger and excitement to match the lyrical themes, but they’re both frustratingly infrequent and maddeningly restrained. The nervous guitars that melt into the sound of an undertow at the end of “Inside” are an effective extension of the Weiss’ metaphorical drowning, but most other guitar codas feel redundant (or worse, uninspired). “Waterfall” runs a pleasant melody through an unpleasant filter in a way that feels obvious, and the fact that “Tephra” repeats the same trick only accentuates how similar all of these songs sound. The band had the right idea in incorporating some tumult to accentuate the lyrical darkness and give the listener something to hang onto other than basic jangle pop guitar lines, but it feels like an incorporation of 20 year old ideas rather than a natural product of their songwriting process.
Loom still has plenty to offer, but a lot of it feels like promise. Weiss is a gifted lyricist, and her voice is such a perfect extension of a dream-pop dynasty going all the way back to Mazzy Star and the Sundays that the album can’t help but be attention grabbing. The band as a whole is less noteworthy, but they show a confidence in song structure and construction that reveals the possibility for some fascinating artistic growth. There’s a section during “America” where Weiss’ voice melds with what sounds like an oboe, and for once the dream pop actually sounds like a dream, full of contradictions and mystery. It sounds like Weiss finally succumbed to the waves. I would have loved to see the band explore more of the possibilities of not fighting so hard.
Loom is out now on Kanine Records.