Review: Cycling - "Release"

Cycling - Release
(2016 Self-Release)

Even the sweetest twee-pop tune becomes a knotted morass left sheltered beneath a favorite winter hat for too long. For Cycling, acquiring a day's worth of harmonic hat hair is all part of the creative process. I like to imagine the anonymous individual behind the Massachusetts-based solo project incubating the embryonic tissue of dreamy folk soundscapes beneath a knitted cap while bored at work or school, then struggling to keep the wriggling mass of inspiration firmly planted atop his head while making the commute home, a December frost blanketing a windshield or Greyhound window. He ducks into a secret passageway concealed by inconspicuously stacked stones in a city park, descending a makeshift wooden stairway lit by torches that leads to a warm burrow, furnished by an already-stoked fireplace, a plush recliner and a tape deck that sits on the side table adjacent to the chair. Cycling collapses onto the leather seat, then removes his headwear to reveal a tortuous tangle of woozy freak-folk ambience. He produces a Rubber-Cushion hairbrush from his left hip pocket, and attacks his snarled follicles, forming manicured fragments of bedroom pop bliss in the process.

While many songs within the genre begin as minimal singularities that expand into impenetrable walls of fuzz, much of the content on Cycling's Release mirrors the reverse of the Big Bang - tracks like "Sappho" and "Sunshine" are born as chaotic galaxies of sound that are gradually squeezed into whispery folk molds. The former is a short 30 seconds' worth of fingerpicked guitar that feels like a re-arranged cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" while the latter is a bustling six-string cityscape cradling cute keyboard swells that inflate like birthday balloons attached to a helium tank. "Trace" buzzes like a sleeping appendage that refuses to move after a midday nap, its shoegaze chords twitching to the rhythm of an awkward drum machine's stumbling strides. Xylophone riffs loom benignly in the distance. Closer "Keep Bleeding" is a heart-wrenchingly tense re-imagining of Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" that acts as a satisfying, cathartic coda to the EP that houses it.

Release is the cataclysmic heat death of its own solar system, an explosion of warmth and sincerity that's as hypnotic as the bluish glow of a newly-stocked fridge.