They Are Gutting a Body of Water return three years to the day to follow up on their cyberpunk and claustrophobic 2019 album Destiny XL. Doug Dulgarian solidifies the band members with the always fantastic drummer Ben Opatut, partner and bassist Emily Lofing, and PJ Carrol on lead guitar. Doug and co. eschew the abrasive fear of technology heard throughout Destiny XL with a lighter, playful sound inspired by two years inside playing Mario. Rather than the largely sample-based experimental soundbites that served as interludes in their previous effort, TAGABOW integrate longer-form, hypnotic, and mesmerizing escapes that remind you of the best videogame soundtracks from your childhood, just with a bit more distortion and reverb.
The best example of this is “behind the waterfall” where acoustic guitar chords strum behind a glacially developed melody. Brighter keyboard lines dive through, building to a drone and feedback before Ben’s heavy hitting drums bring the track back down to Earth, feet barely skimming the surface. It feels like the glaze over your eyes as a child, approaching your second life left, internalizing the subtle ploys the game throws at you while you enter a mechanical trance to get to the next area.Now don’t get me wrong, Doug continues to intersperse the heaviness and doom that makes the shoegaze genre so crushing. On “webmaster,” Doug’s airy, processed vocals pave the way for PJ’s pulverizing guitar to assault you, while Ben finishes the job with his thundering bass drum and crashing cymbals.
And of course, the band’s sense of being terminally online shines, too, with a sample from Hov’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” to start the trap beat enhanced “threes”. All fine and well, until you get your hands on some mediocre Chicago drill mixtapes from the aughts with the same sample, and then this video. The track shines, though, even without the knowledge of the intro. The pitched-up vocals and the innocent sounding keyboard lines make for a song that makes it hard not to smile. In fact, “kmart amen break” and “threes” share those similarities, save for the slowcore inspiration in the former rather than the trap influence in “threes.”
The most important thing I want to highlight, however, is the craftmanship in the writing of these songs. The melody in “lucky styles,” for example, was stuck in my head for hours after listening for the first time and every time after. Even the counterpoint found in “tagabow (intro)” revealed in the guitar lines in the songs closing moments had me repeating it again to see whether that was happening the entire time. The lyrics, which in this genre are notorious for being disappointing, if you even hear them in the first place, are finally up to standard, with “the worn-out sideways chain/sings of their strain/in its sway” found in “violence ii” displaying haunting imagery and personification.
Overall, lucky styles only cement They Are Gutting a Body of Water’s reign as the most creative band in shoegaze right now. In a scene that is only getting more crowded, especially in Philly, where bands like knifeplay and Full Body 2 are starting to receive their well-earned acclaim, Doug, Ben, PJ, and Emily are molding the shape of shoegaze to come.
Playing the music my Ecuadorian mother raised me on to spread the polyrhythmic essence of cumbia, salsa, merengue and more.