Few bands can jump between worlds as seamlessly as Cloakroom. With their 2015 debut album Further Out, the Northwest Indiana trio's music occupied the territory somewhere between emo, stoner metal, and Hum-indebted space rock – (it certainly helped that Hum's Matt Talbott recorded the album at his Earth Analog studio in rural Illinois). Though it's tough to classify the sludgy and undeniably powerful songs that appeared on the record, it somehow made perfect sense that the band could tour with both Brand New and the instrumental post-metal outfit Russian Circles: It's heavy, atmospheric, and distinctly American guitar music that can be as pretty as it is pulverising.
When I called frontman Doyle Martin to talk about Cloakroom's upcoming sophomore album Time Well, which is out August 18 via metal staple Relapse, the first thing he brought up was a retro PC game. "I just drank a pot of coffee and I'm playing this old RPG. I think it's from around 2000 but it's called Arcanum. It's so good," the 27-year-old told me, his voice tangibly excited after he found out I've heard of it. Talking about the making of Time Well, Martin was gleefully all over the place. He was just as likely to cite Arcanum as an influence as well as ephemera as disparate as John Fahey's collection of autobiographical short stories, the late night paranormal radio program Coast To Coast, and even "the pretty but also kind of desolate" surroundings of the Region, the band's Northwest Indiana home.
But beyond those inspirations, the 10-song Time Well is the product of three Midwestern guys – Martin, along with bassist Robert Markos, and drummer Brian Busch – making their practice space a full-fledged studio. Where Further Out was recorded in a different state with outside help, everything on Time Well was done by the band at their practice space in Chesterton, Indiana with their friend and audio engineer Zac Montez. As Martin put it, "It was the practical thing to do. Because we have such weird schedules, we'd get there after work and record all hours of the night if we wanted to."
Though many of the songs were debuted live while touring Further Out, the band started tracking Time Well as early as January 2016, slowly tweaking the material for a year. The more they recorded, the more Martin found the creative well to draw on, "I think just recording in our own environment an underlying theme is finding something a little more ethereal and mystical in the mundane. I feel like our little studio, our practice space, turned almost into some sort of place with sacred weight to it after recording that much and talking out all these ideas."
It's easy to see what he means after listening "Big World," a Time Well single the band premiered last fall. Though it comes in a relatively lean five minutes, it's one of the best representations of how effortlessly these Midwesterners can densely-pack and translate shoegaze and grunge-inflected guitars with Martin's often soothing croon. Elsewhere live staples like opener "Gone But Not Entirely" show the band at its best, allowing the songs to unfurl and stretch out over seven minutes, while others like the repurposed 19th century spiritual "Hymnal" or the brooding "Sickle Moon Blues" evoke the eerie Americana of Songs: Ohia. (Cloakroom recently covered "Steve Albini's Blues").
The supernatural things that fascinate Martin also comes into focus quite literally in album's title: "I was listening to Coast to Coast and they said something about a 'time well' which is apparently some sort of urban legend," Martin recalled before summarising, "These Marines somewhere in Afghanistan found this cave that a spaceship was preserved in and in turn they were they were stuck in this time hole and apparently they're like missing in action now." While that makes for an exciting conspiracy theory rabbit hole, Martin's more concerned about getting lost in his own creative process: "When you're investing so much time in the studio that it kind of feels like a sacred space, it becomes almost a time well. You throw enough time into something and it becomes a little more special, I guess."
To pair with the album announce, Noisey is premiering the epic seven-minute lead single "Seedless Star" along with its accompanying music video, which is directed by Alex Henery, and like the song, is sick as hell. Martin explained about the clip, "We just shot in this abandoned brewery in Michigan City. I think it started brewing beer in 1871 and I used to live down the road from the place and I'd ride my bike over there and break in. I got permission from the dude that owns it to shoot a music video in it. Once again, it's a little sacred, weird, space." He jokingly added, "there isn't some kind of super concept or anything but if you put a couple lights in an abandoned brewery, it looks pretty wild." Pre-order Time Well here.
Josh Terry is also stuck in a time well. Follow him on Twitter.