rooms - Don't Be Yourself (Album Review)

rooms are a lowercase slacker indie rock outfit from Vancouver, spearheaded by the charming lyrics and irreverent songwriting of Beshele Caron. As rooms, Caron and co have landed on three albums; It takes a lot to show up in 2016, You're like the wind, a big gust of nothing in 2019, and the most recent Don't Be Yourself, which features a seven-piece band, the majority of which contribute vocals; lending community feels to Caron's quick-witted, sardonic songs. The bass-heavy, melody-first music on offer often borders on cutesy nerd rock, but never without losing its innate charisma and hilarity. The 12 tracks on "Don't be yourself" are rife with a devil-may-care disposition through nonchalant vocal deliveries, playing styles, and a politically charged worldview that reinforces the everyday liberal attitudes on display.

Thankfully, the album's stylishness, or lack thereof, isn't a crutch. Instead, these songs are driven by content and theory instead of form and practice and reveal delightful pleasures to those who cherish imperfectly real music. For example, the opening track, "Best part of waking up", is an ode to cherishable hypnopompic moments. The writer shares that in singledom, the best part of waking up was idling in bed, but now a human fills that empty space and takes the title. Likewise, "Don't be yourself" artfully uses programmed and live drums, gritty guitars, and harmonies delivered in a song-centred passive lo-fi indie a la Sebadoh or The Moldy Peaches. The chorus is sound advice given to someone before a job interview, "just go in there and be yourself", though titled contradictorily for maximum ironic effect. "What the world" can cover up its saccharine message of love with wonderfully sparse arrangements. Of course, love is great, can save the world, etc., but hardly anyone sings about this cliché sentiment outside of pop music. The Beatles did it to death. However, rooms cleverly handle this with a riff that seems a direct copy of "From Me To You", albeit miles more freeform and watery, and conveyed with deadpan vocals and the energy of the Velvet Underground plugging away at a smokey dive bar. 

Elsewhere, "What's forever" is an emotionally intelligent portrait of a relationship under the strain of differences in adult development. Here Caron exercises her considerable lyrical skills, bringing in nouns like 'wax museums', 'baseball games', and 'modern mummies' to create a colourful, emotive scene. Moreover, Caron is an inspiring wordsmith, delivering unhinged observations that touch on topics in a way others wouldn't usually dare with a ten-foot-pole, like on the otherwise soppy and middling "Let it go" ("Just so you know when you say "Let it go" it doesn't all make it all go away"), a tough-love wake-up call to the perennial dreamer.

The songs become friendly and familiar upon multiple listens, making you feel superficial for passing them off as haphazard on first inspection. "Laying in Lavender" is a poetic toying with beauty, "I get pulled in" folds in brass instrumentation to create a woozy and classily romantic song of leaving and returning, "Moon Signs" is a delightful throwback to pagan folk rock, with lyrics that venerate the moon and its effect on the tides ("I see the waves int he photo you posted"). However, everything is kept modern with millennial/gen z aloofness, careful not to stick to tradition's comforts. "You can point to the moon" ends the album with subdued, call-and-response singing and gentle, barely-played guitars. It's a romantic and dreamy end to an album that spent much of its time too energized by its ideas to stop and appreciate them.   

To achieve the blasé charm found in "Don't be yourself", rooms have forgone any impressiveness that comes with ProTools or multiple takes. The timing on the guitars and vocals is loose, unlikely to have been recorded with a metronome, and at times it seems the singers were uninterested in practising their harmonies before recording them. This approach can come off as lackadaisical, though ultimately, it helps personality come through. It's endearing to know that with rooms, what you see is what you get, and not one modicum of pretence is to be found on this breezy and convivial album.