Cold Transmission Records
Sublime Malaise, the debut LP from Kadri Sammel as Bedless Bones belongs to the school of aloof, European darkwave. Where records of that genus often walk a line between lush intimacy and steely resolve, the Estonian project resolves the tension between those poles within the LP’s songs, giving the album an energy born from synergy rather than conflict. That unity of mood and execution is Bedless Bones’ biggest strength.
The synthesized compositions that make up the instrumental skeleton of Sublime Malaise are built up from a solid foundation of quantized drums and synth bass delivered at mid-tempo. There’s a rigidity to the way the rhythm track pumps on “Limbs Entwined” and “Sad and Alone” that works in their favour, with mechanical grooves that are possessed of both energy and robotic precision. “Drifting” goes slightly groovier and ends up sounding like the crossover goth electro-industrial sound of the mid-to-late 90s, bringing acts like Diva Destruction and Claire Voyant’s more upbeat moments to mind. The sound design palette has a coolness to it across the board; the space between sounds in the mix and the chilly nature of the pads and leads contribute to the reserved tone of the proceedings.
That sort of restraint runs the risk of sounding detached and dispassionate. It’s Sammel’s vocals that do the work of injecting feeling, colouring the mood of the songs with shades of desire, melancholy and fervency. Like the instrumentation, Sammel favors a deliberate and articulate delivery, expressing emotion without going over the top. It’s a finely controlled balance that she manages ably; she expresses a dignified yearning between synth strings on opener “Nemesis Unborn” and a subtly shaded ennui on standout “Where Is My Voice”. There are a few moments that do suffer from how measured she can sound – the gentle balladry of “Losing Control” feels guarded to the point of disaffection – but by and large it works in the record’s favour.
It takes a few listens to Sublime Malaise to really get Bedless Bones. Which is not to say the album’s first playthroughs aren’t enjoyable, but that the specific way that Kadri Sammel never tips her hand as a producer and performer gains power with successive listens. A number with the thick and proximal sounds of “Heavy Words” gains strength through familiarity; the tiny gaps in its impassive facade slowly revealing what lies behind. Those brief moments of closeness are Bedless Bones’ stock and trade.