“What do basements sound like?” An album cover depicting a young man entering a nondescript facade during an evening snowfall. A band photo with illuminated faces contrasted against stark brick and grimy pipes. Recorded in the thick of winter in a Chicago basement. These stimuli raised the question.
Basements are often transient homes. Stops along the way to more prosperous living. There’s a deficiency of light compared to their supraterranean relatives, a plethora of strange and sometimes unnerving noises, and usually an enduring state of incompleteness. Straya‘s Healthy Steps captures these hallmarks, from the stuttering piano lines and slithering atmospheric drones nestled in the space between songs, to the lyrics that fixate on aimlessness and uncertainty of purpose.
Having been a long-time basement dweller myself, I felt a certain affinity for Healthy Steps upon the very first listen that only galvanized in subsequent sessions with it. Straya manages to seamlessly weave delicate mathy guitar lines with plenty of thicker, denser grooves. Fierce post-hardcore flurries abound, sometimes accentuated with absolutely heart-wrenching screams and shouts. The core vocals here though find a beautiful mixture of the raw sincerity found in emo and the distant, washed-out timbre of shoegaze. The bottom half of the album in particular opens up with expansive textures, abundant cascades of Rhodes piano and post-rock-esque climaxes, building a steady momentum over its running time.
Perhaps this description gives the impression of a schizophrenic band leaping between genres, but what astounds me on every listen is how coherent the atmosphere they’ve cultivated is. If you dismantle what’s happening, it’s easy to find touchstones to describe it, but the combination heard on Healthy Steps is one of the freshest and most imaginative things I’ve come across in a long time. The final track concludes with a beautiful crescendo and the line “Now I’m making healthy steps on my own” before fading out, suggesting there is readiness to move on, but for the selfish fan in me pining for more music in this vein, I hope they stay in the basement just a little bit longer.
Progressive, math rock, emo, indie, pop, post rock, vocals, free