The Washboard Abs have been one of our favs ever since they first came to out attention with the release of Whateverland on Z Tapes back in 2015. We loved last year’s album, Have U Scanned Yr Clubcard?, equally well, calling it “sad and sentimental without ever stepping into melodrama… some of the nicest, most heartfelt indie pop around.” Now the Olympia-based band, led by Clarke Sondermann, return with a brand new album, Recurring Chasms, what label Antiquated Future Records describe as “a beautiful and complex journey through personal battles and trauma recovery.”
The album opens with ‘Witching Hour’, crystalline chimes heralding a typically soft and gentle indie pop song. If you’re new to The Washboard Abs then this track illustrates why you’re going to love them, Sondermann’s talent for making pitch-perfect introverted pop knows no bounds. “Watching your chest rise, and blinking with both eyes”, he sings in the first of the album’s many cleanly composed and gauzily translucent verses. “How do I allow this tiny act of love? You are waterfall, I am river mud.” ‘Fall Three’ (the follow up to two tracks from the beaming) is more dynamic, driven forward by steady pulsing percussion before a relatively tumultuous breakdown, while ‘Erosion’ ripples strangely, like the spiky art rock of Young Jesus in slo-mo.
The most remarkable thing about the music of The Washboard Abs is hard to pin down. It lies in the intangible, the sense it conjures, a stillness at the edges that’s as smooth and round as marbles, as soft and luminous as moonlight. Even relatively dynamic tracks such as ‘For Icy Moon’ and ‘One’ maintain the carefully considered air, the increased tempo and angular guitar not spoiling the languid atmosphere or crowding out Sondermann’s quiet wisdom. ‘Souvenir’ strips things right back to repetitive murmuring guitar and vocals and barely-there rolling background atmospherics. The lyrics are characteristically opaque, although hint at the general processes of self-care and recuperation.
“Bathed in light
I am strong
but I am already gone”
‘Comfortable’ feels humid and claustrophobic without compromising the laid back air, a song about staying inside as sweat rolls down thighs. “I am empty, I am alive,” Sondermann sings. “Clinging to my sheets, close the window, turn up the heat / leave me be.” ‘Learning More’ continues on a similar theme, the lyrics balancing dreamlike imagery of fields of flowers with anxious thoughts like “beginnings always beg the question, how will I survive? / I can’t remember to eat my breakfast, I forget to try”.
‘Winter’ is a sparse and icy as the titular season, a thumped drum beat and groping fingers of guitar, the lyrics “beat like a drum, carved out and done, I watch the last breath from my chest float towards the sun.” The final track ripples with guitar, backed by twinkling keys and perfectly metered lyrics, an aural poem that’s quiet and gentle but confidently so, as illustrated by the final lines:
“In the end I know I cant be wrong
I control the narrative I’m bleeding through the song,
so I will carve the space where i belong
in the end I know that I am strong”
Recurring Chasms feels like the antidote to something, a pocket of stillness and reflection at the centre of our weariful world. In a time where what gets noticed is seemingly that which can shout the loudest, it’s welcome relief, and a timely reminder of the joys of a quiet room, the importance of being kind and power in looking after ourselves and those we care for.
Out now on cassette via Antiquated Future Records, Recurring Chasms comes complete with a zine of poetry and photography made by Sondermann himself. Do yourself a favour and order it now.