On first listen, ERAAS’ debut—a spectral passerby of an album—is all ghostly mood and atmosphere, songs of agreeable length but expunged of hooks and conventional structure. You probably won’t find it in the Avant-Garde section of your local record store, but its 40 pop-purged minutes don’t pretend to peddle in radio-friendly verse-chorus expediency. Like the Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi collaboration Rome (a score to a western that doesn’t exist), ERAAS aspires to tell us a story through cinematic aurality, the sounds and score of a gothic horror film that might have graced small screens in seedy theaters in the late ‘60s/early’ 70s in the dark corners of New York, the floors all sticky and the film grainy and scratchy, the seat cushions torn. Maybe it’s because I watched The Innocents the night before the album came out and I had the supernatural permeating my mind, or maybe because it’s the most ghoul-saturated month of the year, but a haunted house quality pervades ERAAS.
“Black House”, the opening track, enters with chimes dangling in the wind. Strings drift in an open window, riding a chilly breeze, a light airy whisper of not wholly innocent intentions circulating a looming empty house. It’s a house that’s all grand staircases and garish chandeliers, busts of ancestors and family portraits in oils; phantom faces reflected in dirty mirrors right behind you, only to dissipate when you turn around; a candle flickering in a darkened room, present but not engaged. The second track, “A Presence”, features a barely-there bass that doesn’t want to distract you or break the aura, and then a simple driving, rhythmic drum beat, a bell jingling with a devout pulse, like an undead apparition of Will Ferrell’s cowbell player. The guitar materializes, playing a faint riff that an unobservant listener may not even notice. It’s subtle—two ascending notes, a pause; two descending notes, back and forth; a riff stuck in a rut like some nameless would-be heroine running from a villainous stalker only to trip and fall, get back up, and fall again. Faux suspense.
ERAAS doesn’t so much sound like the score to a film never made, a la Rome, but rather it evokes the sense of a long-lost film, a celluloid soul trying to renter the world and regain relevancy—the ghost of a film about ghosts. The indecipherable vocals and dance-savvy thump of “At Heart” are great fun and almost inspire lethargic head nods or foot taps, a dance of the dead. The two songs before “At Heart” induce visions of haunted mansions and perpetual nighttime, entities more serene than insidious—horror with a happy ending. The rest of the album balances atmosphere with gothic discotheque dementia, the kind of dancing that requires minimal movement but resonates deep in your core and creeps down your shoulders; a lustful gloom, like Robert Smith having sex and actually enjoying it.
This is music you get lost in. It’s a deep dark abyss, not miserable or melancholic but moody. A Vincent Price voice-over wouldn’t feel so out of place.
But the album took on a different form after repeated listens. When I listened to it in a brighter, cheerier place—as what stubborn sliver of sun that bothered to show up on that rainy afternoon receded beyond Syracuse’s vertically-challenged buildings, and halogen lights shimmered with translucent warmth above me—the music seemed to take on a strangely European quality. In particular, when pulled out of its context within the album “A Presence” put me into the stone tunnels of France, descending into nighttime’s magnetic chasm, with me in a Mini Cooper (stick, of course) and yellow flaring headlights floating by in the dark like so many shooting stars in slow motion. In this imaginary escapade I’m not smiling, but I’m quietly happy. The guitar’s lazy aptitude, the chill thrum of bass, that possessed cow bell player—it’s all so cool. How ERAAS can evoke haunted houses and gothic horror one listen and nighttime Euro-cruising the next is baffling—the dancey tracks felt less out-of-place and more like the soul of the album on some listens, but on others I still pictured desolate staircases and grandfather clocks chiming at midnight.
ERAAS have crafted an album that is so agreeable, so skillfully engaging and background-apt that it feels different in different settings. It goes out of its way to not be immediately memorable or hook-driven, and this is its best quality. That an album etched images of ghastly mansions and Vincent Price in my head one night and 3 AM rides along trendy European roads another is a testament to the album’s malleability. ERAAS is a subtle sleeper, a mellow exercise in atmosphere; not as dexterous or abstract as offerings from the Land or Sun Araw or any other current avant-garde artists, but more accessible, sneakier. When the final track ends and silence seeps into the air, you may feel a kind of lightness or a chill, like some spirit or presence has left the room.