Gray pop

Floating Room makes music that's steeped in sadness and hesitant hope

By Rev. Adam McKinney on December 22, 2016

Music is not always used to soothe or excite; some of the best bands and artists have chosen to allow the listener to wallow in sadness and heartache. Humans' capacity for commiseration is one of our greatest gifts, letting us come together and bond over pain. This can come in the form of a round of lively s#@&-talking over drinks, or late night confabs about the things that cause us the deepest sorrow. When no one's around to commiserate with, though, music steps in as an ideal replacement, and it can take many forms as a partner for wallowing - it can cry along with you, like Elliott Smith; it can rage with you against life's most blatant affronts, like Titus Andronicus; it can even encourage you to regard misfortunes with a laugh, like Belle and Sebastian.

Floating Room is a band that wears its sadness as a badge of honor. Their recent album, Sunless, is full of songs with titles like "Sad God," "Dead Weight," "Warm Death," and "Sick Day," leaving no doubts about what you're about to get into, mood-wise. Even lead single "Fun" is sarcastically titled. Still, the morose or oppressive vibe that these titles may suggest isn't quite where Floating Room sonically land. Floating Room's music, awash in hazy reverb and electronic buzz, is the kind of huge-sounding material that inspires resilience in the face of hardships.

Sunless is an experimental bedroom pop album, recorded in various bedrooms in Portland, and it explores one relationship ending and another one beginning. Maya Stoner and Kyle Bates started the project, eventually bringing in Alec van Staveren on bass, lending a little more fullness to the band. Bates' experience playing slowcore in his band Drowse mixes well with Stoner's experimental bands, creating a melancholy record the nonetheless bristles with off-kilter songs like the woozily psychedelic "Bed" and the stuttering electronica of "Netsuki."

Floating Room is at its best in songs like "Fun," where layers of sound stack up to create a churning intensity that somewhat masks the vulnerability of Stoner's lyrics. Stoner's sweet, open voice gets blanketed in roiling guitars and electronic textures. Even if you're not looking at the lyrics, though, the sentiment of Stoner's message hits you in a visceral way - this sensation of never feeling good enough, of life not having your back, is a universal one that can be communicated with the simplest of gestures. As I said, though, this is not a despairing album; its title of Sunless doesn't indicate a permanent lack of light, but a temporary excursion to a place where optimism has been dealt a blow.

"Gray pop" is the genre that Floating Room have deemed their style of music, and it's a fairly fitting moniker. Hailing from Portland, Floating Room know as well as the rest of us Pacific Northwest residents do that gray skies may seem to stretch on forever, but the sun always comes back. I squint as I write this from the sun shining in my eyes through the window of a coffee shop, and with Floating Room's hesitantly hopeful Sunless coming to a close in my headphones. The album's bedroom recording nature is never more apparent than when it hisses to an abrupt end, but that sense of these people stealing away for a moment to make music conveys a tenderness that is the closest that Floating Room comes to joy.

When you come out of a vacation of wallowing in sadness, you can feel invigorated from the experience. Digging down into the muck helps you appreciate the light when you reemerge. It helps immensely to have bands like Floating Room keep you company.

Floating Room, w/ Drowse, No Worries, 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 29, all ages, $5, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710