2:54 craft a weirdly woven tapestry of implied grunge, dream pop, and psychedelic folk in compelling sophomore record.
Creating ambience-rich music that still feels tangible and grounded is akin to mixing oil and water. Nebulous sounds and freeform compositions with an absence of structures can be liberating, but are also given to meandering messes. On the flipside, adhering to the terrestrial offers up something listeners can more easily latch onto, but just as easily lose interest in. For Ireland-born, England-raised sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow, though, interweaving these two disparate aesthetics comes across as second nature. With their sophomore album as 2:54, The Other I, the siblings craft a series of dramatic vignettes that are floating and spacious, yet tethered to a substance that prevents them from drifting off into the ether.
Verdant guitars, jazzy percussion, haunting production from James Rutledge, and dramatic presentations form the weirdly woven tapestry. With abrupt changes in time signatures and tones, the tunes hook your attention, then double down just as your focus is on the cusp of wavering. There is a synergy beyond the band’s years, perhaps owed to the inherent chemistry between the Thurlows. Subject-wise, a current of ethereal angst runs throughout, the lyrics oblique and poetic. This is fitting, as the record’s namesake is a reference to Percy Shelley. Going a step further, the band’s ostensibly dull moniker is culled from a specific moment in the Melvins’ “History of Bad Men”. In a way, the fact that the group can simultaneously be indebted to the high art of poetry and grinding, sludge rock is emblematic of the dichotomies in their music.
With a faint shimmer like the jingling of wind chimes, “Orion” opens the record delicately until a pulsing bass line and plucked, serpentine guitar comes in amid distant-sounding drums. The tune shifts when the guitar changes to rhythmic flickers sparking behind Colette’s voice, which gets a fine showcasing of its range from deep bellow to high vulnerability. Clamorous percussion pounds in successor “Blindfold” as a fluid groove swirls about it and background effects chirp like distressed birds. It undergoes its first changeup when all else drops out but minor piano notes and Colette’s vocals. The drums then lunge back with a renewed vigor before Colette pleads, “Will it ever leave me alone?” though what “it” is remains obscure, and more universal as a result. The sisters also first exhibit one of the records’ trademarks — using their spectral vocals to intone lyrical hooks repeated in mantra-like fashion, creating a hypnotic vortex in the larger tableau.
“In the Mirror” drifts wavelike, the layered voices echoing and soothing. A wash of strummed guitar is used as a lynchpin as the breeziness flows in and out. Predatory lust is attached to “Prize”, as is a tension that grows tauter with rickety guitars that burst into distorted barrages. Memorable as these two songs are, they’re overshadowed by the record’s centerpiece, “Sleepwalker”, wherein slinky guitar parts wrap sinuously around lumbering drums. “They only come out at night / My little visitors / I wonder if they’re here to stay," Colette sings in the chorus after the pressure builds to a sawing buzz then an accelerated jolt. It’s disappointing that it is followed by “Tender Shoots”, the biggest departure of the bunch and something of a meditation aid. Brief and sung with a hymnal quality, it’s likely meant as a palate cleanser or demarcation between the record’s two sides, but unfortunately amounts to a momentum-killing distraction.
Thankfully, the album’s second half is nearly as stellar as its first. “The Monaco” has a bouncy rhythm and springy guitars, making it comparatively more upbeat than the preceding tracks. That paranoiac vibe is still there, but the narrator here at least acknowledges the demons in her mind may be delusions in her statement of, “Maybe I’m seeing things”. On the other hand, maybe illusory threats are worse, as indicated in the followup lines: “The ground beneath my feet is swallowing me whole / It just goes / It just goes." The self-realization continues with “Pyro”, a bitterly scorching putdown, and in the arpeggio-laden “South”, the latter featuring the wafting refrain, “Nowhere to put misshapen love." Whether this is an affirmation or a cynical renunciation is subjective.
While a degree of listener fatigue does occur with penultimate track “Glory Days” -- the album’s components getting redundant -- it ends on a strong note with “Raptor”. Oppressive yet captivating in its darkness, it sounds as if it was recorded in a pit. Shades of Chelsea Wolfe are here, both in the vocals’ dire inflections, unrelenting beats, and the keyboards’ gothic textures. An extended instrumental outro ratchets matters up to a fever pitch before phasing away entirely.
The late Mark Sandman used the term “implied grunge” to describe his own band, Morphine. It’s an apt description for 2:54’s The Other I as well. As accessible and dour as it is on the surface, it’s the subtleties that continually beckon you in for more and leave their mark upon your subconscious.