It takes a second to sink in, but by the time Glenn Haider’s voice floats into the speakers, it becomes clear that something’s changed. Something’s gone wrong.
At one point, Haider and fellow members Sean Collopy, Spencer Templeton, and Eliot Stone felt lifted by their surroundings; in sharing a living space, they could organically gel together as a group and hone their dynamic, crafting dusty ebullient rockers merged with the indie sprawl of Built to Spill. That dynamic, evident on 2018’s Racoma EPand 2020’s This Front Room, earned them fans both local and national.
That the COVID pandemic suddenly stymied their aspirations to tour and create new music isn’t surprising, but a series of tragedies and life changes have somehow brought the band to this new frontier, one caked in colorless fog and steeped in an intoxicating dourness.
Good a Place as Any, the second full-length by Seattle band Racoma, is indeed a far cry from the dusty alt-country of their past work. Part of that might be the departure of Stone, although his drum duties have been taken over by Templeton. But another part of that might be the struggle of maintenance amid dire circumstances. Recorded essentially in isolation while housesitting in the North Cascades, the record boasts a level of quietude previously untouched by the band. Atmosphere rules the proceedings, from the opening curls of arpeggiation in “Pools” to the Lenker-like guitar melody orbiting “Good Worries.” BPMs have slowed from a quick skip to a resting rate; where previous tracks like “The Kicker” and “OTB” mixed joy in with the angst, a general pensiveness now settles over “Cactus“ and “Grey.”
Turning down the saturation, by nature, can rob art of its energy. But Good a Place as Any works because it translates the band’s gifts – not the least of which is Haider’s baritone – into fitting facets of this strange new architecture. The gently swinging “Valley,” reminiscent of peak early Coldplay, rests like a cool pillow over the ears. Quiescent instrumentals like “Deer Creek” and “Decade” pass like peeks into long-empty rooms speckled with dust.
Two late-appearing numbers, the crescendoing “Everything is Now” and the lachrymose “Eloska,” form the record’s twin pillars of substance. The latter powerfully intertwines Collopy’s plucked melody, a caduceus in guitar form, with Haider’s gutting waver; the former’s plaintive cruelties (“Everything is now/Nothing lasts forever/That’s just how it goes down”) feels like a logical nexus around which the record’s grayscale mood revolves.
Those words emphasize the gulf between this version of Racoma and the version we knew years ago. This is a different band now, one scarred by personal traumas and singed by the acid of contention – disagreements regarding the direction of the new music nearly brought them to the point of extinction. Good a Place as Any bears the weight of that strife, and those expecting another collection of rollicking folk-rock will need to shift their expectations. Instead, in its wintery gloom, it perhaps represents a more fitting portrait of the band than ever before.