illustration by raf spielman

Mope Grooves’ Joy was one of 2017’s most beautiful and necessary albums. Despite its title, it isn’t exactly a cheery record, but it’s infused with a weird kind of enervated bliss, and perfectly captures the feeling of crawling out of depression, of starting to remember what light and life are like. It’s beautiful because it’s true. It’s necessary because it makes the violence of depression seem bearable, maybe even beatable.

In the liner notes accompanying the Portland band’s wonderful follow-up, Vanished, Mope Grooves founder and chief songwriter Stevie Pohlman writes that her second album is more “honest” than Joy because it is “a load of melted doll parts I have no control over.”

Pohlman’s artistic vision is too rowdy and expansive to corral into simple oppositions, but if Joy is a document of psychic pain, Vanished is a pissed-off and panicked vision of physical danger and obliteration. Like Joy, the new album builds stunning, swaying bridges between post-punk deities like Television, the Raincoats, and Pylon­—but the world Pohlman writes about has become much scarier.

It’s a night album through and through, a survey of moonlit fear. On the title track, Pohlman is a “witness at night, [a] victim in the dark” who promises “not to leave a smoking crack in the graveyard.” She “gets chased by shitfaced goons and the half moon looks away” on “Last Seen,” while “the weight of the night smashes my daily life” on “Face to Face.” Pohlman also finds solace in the nocturnal world: “Here in the dark, what’s left is all mine,” she sings on “Secret Life.” But those pockets of peace are bound by people who mean harm, by forces that crush.

Vanished is anything but a joyless dirge, though. Like Brian Eno in his ’70s prime, Pohlman is a tinkering magician who worries at the seams of the pop form to find the quivering soft spots hiding beneath the surface. There is a looseness and sense of play in Pohlman’s method, as if she is discovering the song with you, holding your hand as you weave through its thorns and tangles together. The world Pohlman describes might be terrifying, but at least the songs that live there are wild and free.

Matt Radosevich