By: Hope Ankney
The debut album by the highly praised and boisterous Bay Area group, Pllush, sounds as huge and loud as their over-pouring talent. Stranger to the Pain is just as right to crank during evening drives as it is to flip on as hazy background music to a quiet night-in with friends. With its seamless merging of the brash and sometimes gloomy shoe-gaze instrumentals and indie-pop melodies, the record is able to take on a mind of its own, way beyond a 12 song tracklist or top layer musicality. It has one experiencing a steady plane of a soft daze that lasts well-after the record’s end.
Pllush, a band consisting of vocalist and guitarist Karli Helm, lead guitarist and vocalist Eva Treadway, drummer Dylan Lockey, and bassist Sinclair Riley, have been big contenders in Bay Area’s music scene since 2014, holding impressive modern takes of shoegaze and dreampop that has grown them the audience and reputation they hold while pushing into their debut album, Stranger to the Pain. With tinges of the abrasive guitars and mood-swaying vocals/lyrics that helped craft their buzz, their first full-length holds nothing back as they intensify their shoegaze roots with poppier melodies and more emo-centric vocals and lyrical content. Stranger to the Pain is an emotional stimulation that leaves both the ears and the inner-mind satisfied.
The record swells and wanes throughout it’s journey. The opening track, “Elliot,” starts on a softer medium before rumbling into a more guitar-heavy instrumental full of heavy drums and rough undertones. “Syrup” follows, pounding the guitar distortion and thrashing volume all while offering airy backup vocals that contrast it’s booming sound. “Ortega” proves to be on the poppier side of the album’s spectrum, giving into more surface-like lyrics and slightly emo inflections by Treadway, herself.
“Big Train” is one of Stranger to the Pain’s peaks as it travels into a fuzzy instrumental that has one swaying to its beat. Helms’s lyrics on this track also stand apart as she serves the listener with, “Who’s gonna love me more when I’m crying in the middle of the night? Lately, I’m feeling torn cause nothing ever comes out right” in the song’s belting chorus. It’s gloomy vibe mixed with it’s anthem-like lyrical content, serves as the perfect crowd pleaser.
Whereas “Restart” has a very contemporary art rock feel. It leans on experimental pop as Helm sounds similar in spirit to Tori Amos, if not also Bjorke. “Sleeper Cab” also proves the diversity of Pllush’s debut by providing a calming sea in the midst of the crashing waves. An interlude of beautiful instrumentality mainly focusing on the keys, the track allows the listener and the album itself to breathe by creating a blissful atmosphere.
It’s blatantly obvious that Pllush pushed their talents to new heights through Stranger to the Pain. They show beyond doubt that they can hone the ethereal mixture of vocals, guitar distortions, and thick rhythm of the shoegaze and dreampop genres into a more modern and hazy plane that affects the soul as much as it does the ears. With traces of early works of Rilo Kiley embedded in the music, the band embraces a natural pop-like substructure through their vocals which wind up packing a powerful punch to their lyrical prowess. Stranger to the Pain isn’t just a collection of songs, it represents a transport to a softer more subdued state of consciousness. Allow Pllush to take you there.