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Album of the Week

Review: All We Are’s Self-Titled, Domestic Disco

all we are
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: February 02, 2015
Label: All We Are

The press material for All We Are’s self-titled debut makes a big deal of detailing where the album was recorded, chronicling the beginning sessions in the “isolated Norwegian mountains,” moving to a “secluded cottage in North Wales,” and finally finishing in a “disused school in Liverpool.” If there appear to be common themes to those studio locales — solitary, scenic, inherently evocative — they’re certainly not incidental. All We Are is an album designed only for the most intimate and cutoff listening experiences, preferably in front of a roaring fireplace with an avalanche of snow blocking the door outside.

All that remote imagery might conjure up visions of woodsy folk-rock with a Bon Iver-type creation myth, but if All We Are was about getting stuck in a cabin for months on end, it’d at least suggest that you bring a significant other. The album is as tangibly sensual as any released so far this year, lushly expansive in its reverb-heavy production but minimal in its instrumentation — gently enveloping bass, lightly echoing guitars, and gorgeously intertwining vocals from all three members. It’s a warm, slow embrace of an LP that encourages you to do your fair share of warm, slow embracing as well.

The album’s not all slow, either. There’s enough hi-hat and pounding bass drum here that a good deal of it could be accurately described as disco. In fact, with its two- or three-part falsetto harmonies, ingratiatingly sweet melodies, and sporadic propulsive thump — not to mention the group’s Britsh roots — the group is probably most closely reminiscent of the Saturday Night Fever-era Bee Gees. But needless to say, Tony Manero wouldn’t be lighting up discothèques or strutting down the streets of Brooklyn to All We Are anytime soon: Even at their funkiest, these songs are always more geared for intimate moments in the bedroom than communal ones on the dance floor — too hushed, too billowy, and just delivered at too close-range to ever be considered for such public consumption.

It’s also an extremely patient LP. Most of the songs have verses and choruses, but once they really lock into a vocal or instrumental phrase, they don’t let go easy. The outro to “Stone” starts up around the 2:30 mark and lasts for another three minutes. There are lyrics to “Something About You” besides sighs and a honey-coo’d “There’s something aboouuuut you….,” but they’re so few and far between amidst the chorus repetition that it’s impossible to remember what any of them are. The lyrics aren’t usually terribly important, anyway — the vocals are delivered in such an extreme high-register that they’re often unintelligible, just another softly pulsating instrumental layer, and when they are comprehensible, they’re usually as snugly beckoning as the music: “I want you / I can’t get you out of my head / I just want to do it again,” “I need you baby / To keep me alive,” and so on.

All We Are can be a somewhat tough album to get a grip on, because it invites musical styles that seem to be set in opposition to one another to find chemistry, resulting in a genre that can really only be described in apparently oxymoronic hybrid terms like “discogaze” or “slowfunk.” But its blend of dance rhythms with dream-pop instrumentation and open-air folk-rock sonics makes for an impressively seductive and coherent blend, and it’s just about the perfect album for staying indoors through the coldest months. Let the avalanche outside take its time thawing out.