Bloomsday Open Up on A Place to Land

The Brooklyn band mesh emotional subtlety and lyrical power on their debut LP

Music Reviews Bloomsday
Bloomsday Open Up on A Place to Land

When I first saw Brooklyn-based indie-rock band Bloomsday perform on a rainy rooftop in Bushwick last summer, I was pleasantly surprised by the tenderness of their vocals and the variety of their material, which ranged from short and sweet to mournful and balladic. But it was when they played their single “ISO,” a song written during and about Covid isolation, that I was suddenly moved almost to tears. It seemed like the rest of the audience felt the same: After all, for many of us this was our first concert after a year of isolation, the first chance to come together with others and hear live music again. Bloomsday’s set that day captured how emotional that moment felt.

A year later, Bloomsday’s debut LP is here. Recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of A Place to Land’s seven songs touch on the personal effects of isolation, alongside metaphors about plant propagation and some of the other touchstones so many have returned to over the course of the last two years. Far from being just a pandemic album, though, A Place to Land is also about mourning the passage of time and the way things change, as well as celebrating the independence and growth that passage inevitably brings.

Bloomsday is the project of Iris James Garrison and Alex Harwood, who met in the New York DIY scene several years ago. Their Bandcamp describes their sound as “soft enby rock,” and “soft” is a key word for the quality of their vocals, as well as for their content. The band is fronted by Garrison, whose voice layers longing and forcefulness with extreme flexibility, shooting from a low hum on one track to a soaring cry on the next while remaining very clear. Harwood plays lead guitar, sings, and also provides piano, bass, and drums. Garrison and Harwood’s dynamic, which they’ve described in press materials as “brotherly,” structures many of the songs, which often have a conversational quality where the vocals call and the instruments respond. This lends a sense of intimacy to Bloomsday’s often lonely lyrics, and contributes to the album’s overall focus on losing and finding familiarity in other people.

A Place to Land opens with “Phase,” a polished and upbeat track that establishes the album’s interest in routines and their interruptions. Two of the band’s older songs, “ISO” and “Standby,” come next. Both of these stick closer to Bloomsday’s lo-fi roots, although both would be fitting closers for an album pushing itself less than this one is. “Standby” adds Micah Prussack’s steady bass line to Garrison and Harwood’s well-established pattern, and stands as an anthem in an album full of potential anthems, an introspective ballad that, despite being more sonically complex than these other tracks, retains its simplicity and power through short phrases and a few strained, longing refrains.

The back half of the album is slightly newer material that showcases the band’s maturation over the past few years. The single “Voicemail,” released earlier this month, is where you can most clearly hear the rapport between Garrison’s voice and Harwood’s, twined together in answer to each other. A Place to Land concludes with “Howl,” a short track that’s a microcosm of the album as a whole, contributing its title, as well as a return to the format of a repeated longing phrase beside lines shot through with vulnerability (“I don’t believe I’ve had / Any time with you / You’ve just been in hiding / Underneath my bruise”).

Across all these tracks, Garrison’s vocals steal the show, but Harwood’s guitar frequently peeks out for ambitious solos, particularly on “Standby.” Coming in at around 23 minutes in total, the LP is short and its individual tracks are economical, with instrumental sections that leave just enough room for the lyrics to breathe. There are a few lyrics that don’t quite land—the reference to “glowing up” on “Voicemail” stands out in particular—but for the most part, they remain sentimental while also being self-aware.

Much of the emotional heart of Bloomsday’s music centers on questions. This is true of “ISO,” where it appears in a line that clarifies the song’s emphasis on the disconnection Covid fostered for musicians and, of course, for everyone else: “What were we building before everyone was hiding for their lives?” And it’s true on the culmination of “Standby,” when the singer asks, after longing for someone to whom they used to be close, “I know there’s more to you / Is there more to you and I?”

So much of A Place to Land is about stasis—the singers are stuck inside, stuck on what you said, stuck reliving the same moments over and over—and yet the album’s progression never feels bogged down by the past. The combination of energetic instrumentals and soaring vocal performances from Garrison on almost every track infuse that stasis with a sense of hope, the sense that, eventually, you’ll move forward despite yourself. In this brisk first album, Bloomsday prove they are capable of explosiveness but also emotional subtlety, demonstrating a range that promises to expand even further in the future.

Emily Price is an intern at Paste and a columnist at Unwinnable Magazine. She is also a PhD Candidate in literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. She can be found on Twitter @the_emilyap.

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