On paper, the ingredients of local duo Romantic States shouldn't work together at all. Start with a base of the plodding don't-do-anything-too-rhythmic drumming of Sonic Boom's post-Spaceman 3 work. Add a heaping helping of slowcore's why-get-out-of-bed lowercase sads. Top with guitar jangle pop to taste, of either the Paisley Underground southern California variety or the English zest of Felt, Close Lobsters, and the Mighty Lemon Drops. That sounds like the musical version of a Guy Fieri menu item, like a deep-fried General Tso's chicken burrito—you know, something where you're not sure if it's the cholesterol, trans fats, or taste that's the bigger crime. That Romantic States make all those elements into a seductive, cohesive whole isn't merely impressive, it's quite often hypnotic.
Take 'Broken Clothes,' a song title that fits the duo of Jim Triplett (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and artist Ilenia Madelaire (drums) like a bespoke hand-me-down. Triplett starts with a simple guitar line and strum, behind which Madelaire puts an absent-minded beat. The combo barely forms a melody, but it's enough to hold the ears. They stay there for a over a minute before Triplett begins the verse, which sounds like it starts: "Saved against your will/ until the thrill is gone/ unused nightmares." He continues with this opaque foreboding, twice repeating "couldn't feel more real/ couldn't be less real," before the tempo quickens slightly and the song ignites into a distorted burn—as if everything that happened before was to distract the listener long enough before a detonation.
The standouts here—closer 'Fearless Kisses,' the sunny breakup bitterness of 'Rotting Promise,' and the great 'Back Pain,' an almost-narrated chronicle that hits early Smog levels of drawn-curtains obsession—deliver such subtly sneaky surprises. This self-titled cassette, out on Washington, D.C.'s DZ Tapes, appears to be the sixth release the duo has put out since 2010. Most of those previous documents have a more minimalist, low-fi bedroom vibe about it than the nine songs here, which hew closer to 2013's more-robust "Vessels of Devils." I bring up all those releases here not to imply that Romantic States is overly prolific but to mention that it's possible to hear the band writing its way toward the variety and confidence displayed here, and it makes these ears very curious to hear where they're going next.
*An earlier version of this post included incorrect two incorrect lyrics and two incorrect titles. It has been updated.