“OH MY SAD GOD/Look at what we’ve become/I thought I believed/But was I the only one?”
Sung by Floating Room’s Maya Stoner, these lyrics speak to the feeling of weaning yourself off someone else’s Kool-Aid—they’re the howl of someone who’s realizing they’d been conned into worshipping a false idol. The lines are the centerpiece of “Sad God,” the opening track on Floating Room’s terrific full-length debut, Sunless, out now on Good Cheer Records.
“These songs are not about heartbreak as much as they are about abuse of power,” Stoner says over email. The album’s 10 dazed noise-rock tracks sound disoriented, like they’ve crawled out from under a rock and are squinting against blinding white sunlight. That’s not to say Sunless is sad—these songs are numb and tingling, more caught in transition than preoccupied with the past or the future.
Floating Room formed last year in Portland as the bedroom recording project of Stoner and her partner Kyle Bates. (Bates has his own project called Drowse, which Stoner plays in as well.) They share guitar and synth duties, she does beats, and he contributes samples and sound manipulation. When laying down tracks for the album, the duo asked their friend Alec Van Staveren to play bass, and later added Cyrus Lampton on drums for their live shows (he’d played with Stoner in the now-defunct Sabonis). But the concept for Sunless sprouted from Stoner and Bates’ creative partnership, which eventually evolved into a romantic relationship.
“I cut off communication with an abusive ex when Kyle and I began dating,” she says. “This was a period of heavy cognitive dissonance for me. Now that I was freed from the grip of his manipulation and brainwashing, I could finally look back and see the abuse for what it was... As someone who has claimed to be a feminist since I was 14, the idea of having let myself be a victim was very confusing, and made me really question myself.”
Floating Room’s self-described “gray pop” brings grace and order to distorted noise compositions, which sometimes eclipse Stoner’s hushed lyrics like passing storms. Each song sounds like it’s backed by a wild pack of guitars—some riffs hum warmly, while others thunder and drone over Bates’ samples, which include dog whimpers and wind chimes. The result is arresting.
Stoner says the record’s inspiration cuts deeper than her experience with her abusive ex—it’s also a reflection on a lifetime spent internalizing misogynist microaggressions. “Save me/Crave me/Hold my hand/Drag me down,” she sings on “Dead Weight,” citing the various ways men objectify women. Standout “Fun” finds her bucking the notion that the world is everyone’s oyster, when “Everyday a mirror’s held up to my flaws/And I try hard not to give into the idea that I should be small.” But Sunless doesn’t sound at all disempowered—its heavy distortion seems to reflect the difficult exercise of separating your reality from what others project onto it.
“When I began working on this album, a major theme I wanted to write about was wanting to be strong,” Stoner says. “A lot of the lyrics are tongue in cheek.... Even just listening to the masters gave me a physical sensation, almost like coughing out something I was holding inside.”