I have always wanted to come up with a word in the English language that specifically translates to coming across something exactly when you needed it, but for now I'll just settle with serendipitous. This is exactly how listening to Gates' latest full length, Bloom & Breathe, has felt to me. It is easily one of the smartest releases from Pure Noise Records I have heard this fall. Musically, it is as good as Gates has ever been and it is perfected by Kevin Dye's simple and unpretentious mastery of thematically connecting lyrics.
"Everything That Ever Has Been" is the instrumental number that kicks off the album with Gates' trademark ambient sound that provokes feelings of wonder and hope. It made me think of being out somewhere then hearing a really tranquil song come on, and next thing you know you are thinking about your entire life at 3 P.M., but somehow feeling okay with it – which is, consequently, precisely how this album will make you feel. "Bloom" pauses for a moment before diving in much heavier than the opener. It delivers exactly as a second song always should – captivating the attention of listeners. After the three-minute mark, there is a part that requires close listening because the muffled lyrics delineate the overall themes of the album.
"Persist in Delusion" is one of those songs that talks about being strong and letting go of the things we cannot control. Despite its positive message, the chorus is a little too generic; in my opinion, it's one of the few weak songs on the album, but the great drumming towards the end almost makes up for it. "Not My Blood" is easily the most commercially sounding track with its anthemic chorus – and that's probably why it's the song that got the music video. Don't take away Gates' street cred just yet, though, as this song is brilliant not just because of its sticky chorus, but it also has a hell of a good second verse.
"Light the First Page" falls rather flat compared to the rest of tracks, but it is ironic that Dye sings about being words on a page that no one will ever read and being sentenced to be free of any meaning considering how big this album could be for Gates and their listeners. "The Thing That Would Save You," presumably dedicated to a loved one with mental health or emotional problems, is one of the sweetest songs of the album. It's not one of my favourites, but it will definitely resonate with a lot of people.
While "Nothing You'll Miss" is one of the most mellow tracks on Bloom & Breathe, it highlights the only real critique I have of this album – which is the irritatingly low and indiscernible vocals. While the low vocals do effectively complement most songs, they also make it incredibly hard to properly make out the lyrics sometimes. It is a shame because of how much of this album's lyrics circulate as one theme and deserve to be properly noticed. "At Last the Loneliest of Them" is reminiscent of a lot of bands in the last 10 years; particularly, I hear Circa Survive and Underoath in this song, but the familiarity is appreciated because this is easily one of the most underrated songs on the album. The end is especially haunting with one of the best lyrical and musical climaxes on Bloom & Breathe.
"Born Dead" is not exactly a standout, but it weaves nicely to the theme of accepting mortality that has been building up throughout Bloom & Breathe if you closely listen to it. "Marrow" does the same thing as well and, despite being one of the musically tamest numbers on the album, it makes up for that with all the similar lyrics on the album finally coming in full circle. In short, the lyrics are about Dye, or at least the character he has been singing about and, despite he could be better, he accepts his mortality and the way he is. "Low" is wistful perfection; however, despite its depressing lyrics and tone, this song makes you feel anything but low for some reason. It shows Gates' growth because they have mastered how to evoke intense emotion, but somehow still make their listeners – or at least me – feel light.
"Again at the Beginning" is more of a grower than a shower. Compared to the last great half, it falls a bit short, but it's still good and it's a perfect segue into the closer. "Everything That Always Will Be" mirrors the opener – title and music wise – as a way to nicely round out the album. It also acts as a complete instrumental and is nothing particularly special, but it finishes just as the album started: on a hopeful note.
There are so many more things I could say about this album, especially of its existential lyrics and how they come together wonderfully. Almost every song on here deserves an extensive listen because, the more you listen to it, the more you realize why Gates has grown from playing tiny shows at The Court Tavern to opening up for Pianos Become the Teeth at Webster Hall. Bloom & Breathe is proof that Gates deserves that opportunity and that basing your band out of New Brunswick, New Jersey still upholds to its talented history.