OVER THE SATISFYING clink of ricocheting pool balls, Lubec frontman Eddie Charlton (vocals/guitar) describes the inspiration behind the Portland band’s newest record, Cosmic Debt.
“It’s basically the balance of your karma throughout all the lives you’ve led, and hopefully in a well-lived life you’re learning and adjusting and trying to change your cosmic debt into a positive,” he says.
Lubec’s second full-length follows 2014’s The Thrall, a record Caroline Jackson (keyboard/vocals) describes as “a celebration of being young.” Charlton adds that at the time of its creation, this debut reflected “the appeal of limitless possibility.” But blurred horizons and seemingly endless highways eventually reach crossroads, markers in time and space that force momentary pause.
Cosmic Debt embodies this inescapable reflection; it’s both claustrophobic and dynamic, a 12-song encapsulation of the moment when you start to wonder about your own “cosmic debt” credit score and whether or not you’re in the red. This transitory feeling is reflected in unpredictably reactive drumming from Matt Dressen; Charlton’s geometric, calculated guitar riffs; and Jackson’s fuzzed-out classical piano. The result is carbonated shoegaze, too fizzy and frenetic to be dreamy but too distorted to feel like reality. “We sort of intentionally try to ride some line between jarring and catchy,” says Dressen.
The band spent a “marathon weekend” recording Cosmic Debt at the Map Room in Southeast Portland with Seattle producer Dylan Wall (Naomi Punk, Hausu). “We recorded it in the first half of March, and it was the pinnacle of a Portland winter—just so gray and so rainy. The entire time it was so dark,” says Charlton.
The record opens with the one-minute instrumental “(high blood pressure),” which lays calm, rippling guitar chords over the incessant drone of the nightly news. Cosmic Debt has four of these brief interludes, forced pauses within the album that re-center its focus with powerful minimalism.
On the album’s second track, “Clipped Wings,” Charlton and Jackson sing, “The weather’s great/But you can never stop molting/Dominion so fake/Can’t escape the hounds with/Clipped wings!” About halfway through, the song bursts into a measured but cacophonous orchestra of layered vocals, guitar tones, and skittering drums.
Standout “Cracks in the Veneer” dips into Boy-era U2-style new wave with shouted gang vocals echoing as Charlton warns of “the subtlety of your doom.” The pressing, inescapable weight of time seems to constrain this song, as lyrics about “gray strands” and “fey lines” will tell.
Jackson scream-sings “I feel my cosmic debt/Don’t know what it is” on the record’s short but explosive title track, while closer “Ember” simmers over nearly five minutes. The record’s coda seems to find peace in the relentless push forward of time, observing the beauty of cyclicity: “We remember/That November/Seasons gather/By the ember/It fills the room.”
Cosmic Debt leaves plenty of room for interpretation, with powerful melodies that often render the vocals indecipherable. But that’s exactly how Lubec likes it: “I think it’s important not to prescribe how you should enjoy something,” says Dressen.
“That’s kind of the magic, I think, of dream-pop and shoegaze in general—if certain boundaries are blurred, it allows for the listener to project on it,” Charlton adds. “The cool thing about the genre is that it trusts the listeners’ intelligence.”