My introduction to Peals, the new project from Double Dagger's Bruce Willen and Future Islands' William Cashion, came from a recording of a show at Station North's oddball of a venue, the Depot. At the beginning of the recording, a woman's voice is heard saying, "Look, he's sitting down? This isn't Double Dagger at all, or Future Islands." No, my friend, this is Peals, and there's no fuzz bass or New Wave hits on Willen and Cashion's Thrill Jockey debut, Walking Field. The album starts off with Fahey-esque finger-picking, layered with the unmistakable warble of pitch-shifted guitar. There's loads of other sounds on the record, like warped percussion, toy piano, feedback, and cello. In the end Walking Field succeeds because of the variety of sounds and material. The rollicking guitar duet of "Tiptoes in the Parlor," reminiscent of Dustin Wong-era Ecstatic Sunshine, gives way to "Lonestar," which sounds like the calm before an Icelandic post-rock storm which eventually turns to the beautiful ambient track "Believers."
On the surface, Roomrunner, led by former Double Dagger drummer Denny Bowen-now on guitar and vocals-seems much more akin to Double Dagger, but there are telling differences. Yes, they play loud and distorted rock, but the layers of fuzzed guitar are far from the taut, stop-start riffing of Double Dagger. Dinosaur Jr. and Isn't Anything-era My Bloody Valentine are more apt touchstones. Furthermore, vocalists Nolen Strals and Bowen are hardly similar. On Ideal Cities, Bowen rarely rises above a loud, forceful murmur. His melodies tend to bring to mind Kurt Cobain, with simple, conjunct lines such as the downward three-note melody found on "Vaporize." But unlike Cobain's tunes, Roomrunner's music is joyous and downright fun. The melodies and guitar riffs are catchy, and the bursts of feedback that pepper the album feel like squeals of joy.
Which brings us to Double Dagger's swan song, 333. Their last full-length, More, took Double Dagger's sound and expanded it, adding harmonium; quieter, calmer sections; and bass loops. The new album furthers the aural expansion to goatse-like proportions. "Space Dust," a showcase for Willen's considerable melodic gifts, wouldn't sound out of place on the Peals album. But don't worry, they don't forget the catchy, elastic post-hardcore that made them popular in the first place. Tracks like "Supply/Demand" and "Foreign Bodies" have some of their finest high-energy, spazz-out moments. The epic, seven-minute closer, "Heretic's Hymn," is perhaps the highlight of the bunch. Strals starts off singing, "Nobody writes gospel songs anymore" before reaching the sing-along chorus, ending with a shout of "hosanna." The song breaks down a third of the way through, ending the song and the album with a meditation anchored by looped noise and Willen's beautiful bass work while Strals gives the eulogy. "But if this is my last song,/ and these are the last words I'll ever write,/ I hope you won't forget/ you're only free making art outside." Don't worry, how could we forget?