Album Review: bdrmm – I Don’t Know

[Rock Action; 2023]

Occasionally, a band can take such a creative leap forward that you have to keep reminding yourself who you’re listening to. It’s a rare feat, but it can happen. Shoegaze four-piece bdrmm (pronounced “bedroom”) have created a second album which not only eclipses their debut on almost every level, but it often doesn’t even sound like the same band. That’s not to say that 2020’s Bedroom (pronounced “bdrmm”) was poor. Far from it, in fact. But in hindsight it feels like the sound of a band wrestling to find their identity, too hidden by the long shadows of those that so clearly influenced their sound.

I Don’t Know begins like every good shoegaze album should by kicking off with a delicious slice of electronica. “Alps” sounds like it belongs on a Rival Consoles or Kelly Lee Owens record, with its arpeggio bleeps and soothing keyboard washes creating a sharpness and focus unlike anything the band have produced before. Ryan Smith’s soothing vocals seem more assured on this track, and across the record in general, and it’s clear that the maturing nature of the band’s sound has also coincided with a need to explore new sonic palettes. This is development and growth, not a revisionist exercise or reappraisal and abandonment.

“Be Careful” has a gentle rhythmic shuffle, an almost trippy and lackadaisical swagger with a delicately delivered repeated vocal which acts as a nebulously vague yet still vital mantra of protection and self-care. Album highlight “It’s Just a Bit of Blood” follows, and rattles your eardrums just as you were getting comfortable in the soothing territory that the first two songs place us in. A pensive guitar line is kicked to death by a wall of guitars before the song falls into the good old quiet-LOUD-quiet-LOUDER template, whilst also essentially being a pop song. The loud parts never quite reach the punishing harsh heights of label masters Mogwai, but that isn’t the intention. bdrmm are all about the space, rather than the timbre and tone. Serenity, not severity. Even in the more urgent parts of I Don’t Know there’s still a languid feel, but not one born from torpidity, but rather from a confident assurance. 

“Pulling Stitches” has woozily distorted My Bloody Valentine style guitars while Smith’s lilting vocals fit somewhere between that of Thom Yorke or Matt Flint (from the 90s shoegaze scene’s seemingly forgotten men Revolver), whereas “Advertisement One” pulls the band in a much more serene, meditative space. The post-rock influence of Mogwai is clear here, but I Don’t Know is more than the sum of its influences.

Herein lies an issue in contemplating an album that skittishly flits between genre tropes from one track to the next, albeit not in an overly dramatic manner, yet still a noticeable one. Rather than sit in a rut of songwriting where each track sounds akin to the next, and one song seamlessly falls into another, when a band tries to do what bdrmm do here there is always a tendency amongst some to identify the fingerprints on each track rather than merely take them on face value. This is why it may take several goes round on the album for it to properly click, but when it does you’ll be glad you were so patient with it. 

There is an underlying theme of hope at the heart of the record, with lyrics offering seeds of optimism despite some tough subject matter being touched upon, and the washes of keyboards and guitars offering a protective layer to the vulnerability of the words. “A Final Movement” is a rare thing in 2023 – an album’s last song that feels as if it was always destined to draw things to a close from the moment it was written. Do you remember when albums had genuinely great and purposeful closing tracks? Not so common these days, it would seem. At just over eight minutes long, it slows down when you expect it to burst into life, and generally resists the path of least resistance in terms of song structure. 

It’s a beautiful way to pull things together, and it does so in a temperate and stoic manner that suddenly allows you to make sense of the record as a whole. This is not a band trying to highlight their influences one by one in a cynical manner, but a group of people who clearly draw strength and identity from the sounds they engage with and that surround them. Overall, I Don’t Know is a formidable leap forward for bdrmm and needs to be seen as one body of work that veers this way and that, but always with a purposeful forward motion.