Written by Westin
Pupil Slicer – Blossom
> Releasing June 2
> Prosthetic Records
What does it mean to mature? It’s something I’ve thought about a lot the last few years, as time catches up with me in resurfaced memories and subtle ghosts, and I realize everything I’ve outgrown or left behind. Many bands whose debut I loved within the last few years are releasing sophomore albums, or even third records, and talking about “maturing” their sound or creative process. Despite this choice of language, many of them sound very similar to their younger selves, so what does maturity mean, musically? Can maturity be quantized and categorized as simply as “better production” or “better songwriting”? I believe Pupil Slicer have found their answer – for them, to mature is to Blossom.
Formed in 2017 after vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies posted online looking to start a band, they soon joined up with drummer Josh Andrews and bassist Luke Fabian, and the trio immediately set to pushing themselves to their limits to find out what they could accomplish. In 2021 they released their debut LP Mirrors, which worked its way up to my AOTY list for that year among many others. In 2022, the band released a performance cover of the iconic song “Concubine” by Converge, a move which landed them a lot of media attention. Newly minted member Frank Muir has joined as a second lead guitarist, and here we come to the sophomore release in Blossom.
Whereas the debut LP is a very standard album experience, loosely connected ragers that burn themselves out in a glorious millisecond of time, Blossom shifts tact completely; a concept album centered on an alien transmission that sends you through an extra-dimensional alternate reality. This becomes apparent through the implementation of transitions between tracks, giving the listener a strong through line as the sonic journey unfolds and blossoms around them. Intro track “Glaring Dark of Night” is a gorgeous synthy minute of lull and spacious drifting before a painful hiss of static drags us into “Momentary Actuality”, absolutely driving relentlessly through the barrier between realities. Andrews’ drumming must be commended here for keeping me off kilter throughout the track with little fills, rhythms, and flourishes that don’t leave comfortable space for a sonic center to settle into. The song closes on the floating chunk of distortion that opens “Departure in Solitude”, before Fabian’s hammering bass and Davies’ angular riffs join in alongside electronic elements like background radio transmissions lost in the void of deep space.
Queerness is front and center for Pupil Slicer – Kate Davies is trans, and their life experiences shape so much of that debut album, culminating in album closer “Collective Unconscious” that actively addresses the social malady of transphobia. While Blossom does not necessarily feature such straight forward messaging, it’s impossible to ignore the queerness that permeates the entire structure of the album. The concept itself, an alien transmission that alters your perception of reality and breaks you down to rebuild through an unfamiliar space, is rife with trans allegory. Mathcore as a genre itself is a violent reconstitution of the traditional musical body, harnessing things like time signatures, tempo, tonality, in ways that actively deconstruct what it means to be music. Pupil Slicer are also incredibly innovative within their own right, bringing in elements of electronic noise, grindcore, black, and death metal, all to deliver fully on the immersive and horrifying experience that Davies seeks to embody through their art.
I don’t need to tell you that every member of the band is absolutely carrying the weight of the world on their backs, each are absolutely delivering the peak performance possible for their role. The sick guitar trade-offs between Davies and Muir that open “Creating the Devil in Our Image”, leading into the mesmeric “The Song at Creations End” that shows off more of the bands’ compositional skill, are absolutely transcendent in tone and impeccable timing. Andrews’ drumming deserves another spotlight here as he is able to transition on a dime between black metal blast beats and restrained post-rock snowdrift rhythms. It’s clear that influence has been trickling in from Rolo Tomassi, whom the band toured with last year, alongside sounds reminiscent of Deafheaven, the band Kate originally posted about aspiring to all those years ago. But Pupil Slicer are their own band, far beyond cheap imitation, instead using those blueprints and countless more as a platform off which to launch themselves into an unfathomable future, built of all the despair and resplendent wonder that crafted Davies’ personal experiences.
Blossom closes on its title track, full of brightness and hopeful energy that moves in infectious ways while retaining the incredible ferocity that the band have carved into such a definitional signature of their sound. It also features a stellar lead performance from Muir, who really gets to show his chops. While some fans may be disappointed that some of the extremely chaotic and off the walls nature of Mirrors has been dialed down, it’s impossible to imagine this record as anything but a major step forward for Pupil Slicer. The question of maturity has been routinely raised; what does it even mean? For this young band, maturity is a palimpsest, building off what has come before, taking up the same space in new ways, ever growing and shifting and expanding what it means to be. Flowers do not pop up overnight, they plant themselves in one spot, digging deep for the sustenance of life, coalescing from unrecognizable building blocks into something greater than the sum of the pieces – to create yourself is to bloom.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Pupil Slicer have grown into themselves on Blossom, finding an incredibly potent path forward. The band deftly trade in on some of the unbridled chaos of the debut for crystal clarity of purpose and even deeper emotional authenticity on the sophomore release. This is one of the best albums of 2023 so far; a stellar release by one of the freshest sounding bands of the decade.