“I'm dying.” / “Is it blissful?” / “It's like a dream.” / “I want to dream.”
— “Dream House” by Deafheaven
Sometime in the Spring of 2013 an image appeared on the Instagram feed of the independent record label Deathwish. The image was beautifully sparse, with only a single word — SUNBATHER — spelled out across three rows of text in elegant, minimal type against a soft orange-pinkish background. Whole stems, crossbars, and shoulders of letters seemed to disappear completely into the soft tones behind them. I assumed it was an album cover though it didn't look like any album cover I had ever seen. I was mesmerized. Further reading revealed it was the cover art (designed by Nick Steinhardt of Touché Amoré) of the forthcoming album by the band Deafheaven from San Francisco. Somehow the band had eluded me to that point, but they now had my attention.
When SUNBATHER was officially released, on June 11, 2013, I listened to it as soon as I awoke (I somehow summoned the willpower to avoid all prior leaks). I was immediately consumed by the opening track “Dream House”, with its cascading wash of guitars, frantic drums, and the tense, controlled screams of vocalist George Clarke. This was something incredible. Its formula — epic, genre-crossing crescendos of frantic, moody aggression, paced by impenetrable blast beats, suddenly braking to swells of disarmingly pretty guitar interludes — is replicated across SUNBATHER's duration. The result is an album of beautiful ferocious melody — at times blistering and discordant, otherwise tranquil and contemplative. It's an album with great emotional resonance equal parts devastating, haunting and lovely — the sum of which delivers a visceral impact that is immediate and relentless. It's the kind of album I always hope to discover, and that broadens my perception of what music is capable of in sound and vision.