The world of Bloom formed most noticeably around the loss and heartache that featured in their Past Tense EP. With In Passing (releasing on Friday), the Sydney band are again exploring loss in a personal way, but this time it’s about the death of a loved one and all of the internal goings-on that that experience brings.
EP opener, “The Service”, swiftly draws the listener into the intensity of death, where we are immediately thrust inside an old church and a funeral service is taking place around us. The unease of the experience is felt and heard, and a wide-eyed observation of people in mourning comes through the vocals and an emotionally constricted lyrical lens. With voices hitting feverish heights, it all comes across like an internal scream; trying to understand all of this in the quiet reverence, while the protagonist (vocalist Jono Hawkey) wonders if what they feel is also being experienced by others around them.
Instrumentally swaying in its timing at first, there’s an apt seasick uncertainty to “The Service” that only leaves when we learn that Jono’s mother is standing at the podium, speaking of her deceased father. This hits in its own way, where the throat lump of geneological familiarity between Jono and his grandfather sticks, as well as the words that she spoke. Empathy puddles around the discomfort of the experience.
Regret opens a side door to this immersion for a moment, in playing back the experience and noticing what was not done at the time. But it’s only fleeting, because thoughts of the departed loved one and their impact again take centre stage. And through all of this, like one long thread being traced, Bloom honour the experience and its subtle turns and shifts with a continued sense of presence and care.
Tumbling downhill, with an “I can barely think about it” vibe that’s complimented by guitar and bass movements, the coffin is carried, with a split between remembering the experience and being there (“The coldest day in winter”). The emotional gut punch of the experience is hit home by unrelenting percussive strikes and unsettling heights, landing in “I never want to go through this again”. It’s a tough scene to be laid out, tough to swallow, tough to have as an EP opener, but a direct and meaningful one nonetheless.
We continue In Passing with “The Boat and The Stream”, which is initially cold and bereft with just pared back guitar. It immediately sets a scene of thinking and wondering, fitting the sense of reflection that In Passing holds. The subject of that thinking is revealed when “The Boat and The Stream” grows into a full band effort, with intertwined vocals considering the loss of someone and trying to make sense of it.
Again with a sense of swaying to the song’s time signature (at least for a moment), it feels like a good match to the album artwork and its water, not to mention the emotional uneasiness. With Bloom breaking the third wall, we hear a question asked – wondering whether the sadness is being forced for the music – and while the pace and instrumentation feel smooth and driven, I feel a chaotic undercurrent which matches this stream of consciousness and flood of thoughts about all of THIS.
Back to swaying again, the frustration of the ‘more’ that could have been done ripples out on this river, as if trying to reach the unreachable from an earthbound rowboat. Hoarse and hurting vocals, it’s easy to become immersed in the ache of what seems like regret as well as loss, and the bass oozes finality with heartfelt connection via guitars all at the same time.
It’s tough to take in, when voices intertwine and instrumentation builds, and in “The Boat and The Stream”‘s final section – with an unexpected shift into a different pocket of sound – an empathetic ache persists, and the focus again goes to Jono’s mother. There’s something heartfelt and organic about this ongoing thread and cycle of thoughts over several songs; thoughts that are out there in the world and come back to the protagonist with their own rhythm.
“I saw myself in you, and I think she felt the same”
Clearer of mind, “Daylight” has the harsh reality of mortality coursing through its veins and it takes this into panicked places while also holding it up as fact. “Because everyone dies”, the song carries a drive to connect and forget the stuff that has us at arm’s length, and it does this with downward stepping and rocky waves of instrumentation. Nudged by bass, the metaphorical boat of the previous song features, which is also a key element of the entire EP. In the words of the band:
“Bryan was discussing a painting he had on the wall depicting a stream surrounded by trees. In his tired state he simply stared at the painting, saying he was “Waiting for the boat to come down the stream”. This is the moment that inspired the song [“The Boat and The Stream”], and has even inspired the EP’s artwork which is taken from that very painting.”
Heartwrenchingly, Jono fears for the metaphorical boat coming for the rest of his family, and he puts himself forward as the one it should take. The question of coping and “Will I/they be alright?” is a recurring shock that hits in this aftermath of Jono losing his grandfather. The heightened and darkened mood is reflected by a sharpened moment that drops into a two-steppable pocket before getting heavier still. The heavy thoughts naturally suits the heaviness of sound.
A lone, single-ear guitar is in no way preparing for the anguish that lands in “June”. With slamming and aching instrumentation, we’re taken back in time and privy to bedside conversations that occurred before the death in question. Guitarist and vocalist Jarod McLaren holds the torch in this track, where (supported by bass) his voice spans from conversational calmness to helpless panic while detailing the experience.
In “June” there’s an interesting shift into something that sounds retrotastically smoother for a moment, reminding me of my conversations with Bloom band members and them not wanting to be restricted by a melodic hardcore genre label. But quickly my focus goes back to the story being shared, where a hospital visit was so fraught with unspoken tension that it had Jono coming across as unavoidably distant, even though he had a lot of love for his grandfather. As with other tracks of the EP, I’m adoring the bass tone as well as the song’s fluid movement through its sections as it follows a thematic thread.
The EP’s title track is where it ends. Sonically hectic and chaotic, “In Passing” feels like looking at the messy pieces in the aftermath and considering what life is like after the event of the death. There’s an element of acceptance, and with the bargaining of “Daylight”, I wonder if the songs of this EP loosely trace the five stages of grief in their own way. Galloping beats couple with an undercurrent of stress, punctuated by downward slides into pressure-driven collapses.
Unease bleeds through the track, even though “I know now you’re in a better place”. And again the shakiness in response to this loss inspires the question of whether it’s justified in its magnitude, given their relationship wasn’t a close one. Hearing “In Passing” offers up a spiral that many might find familiar; of feeling bad, then asking yourself if the feeling makes sense, and then sinking further when it is judged.
Sailing overtop the spiral is Jarod’s vocals, deftly joined by Jono and with an instrumental reach for reassurance. Punching and raw, the world created here in “In Passing” is an uncomfortable one, with all parts gathering and building for some truly heart-wrenching instrumentation. Focus gets pulled again back to thoughts on loss, with a shining shift arriving at the last minute. The EP offers tribute to both his lost grandfather as well as to his mother and their connection, and this outward expression of reaching out is a moving thing to take in.
I was moved from my first listen to In Passing, and impressed at how the EP shares these meandering thoughts and fears while still pulling enough focus that the songs stand on their own two feet. The fact that there’s threads of ideas that span across the entire EP ties it all together, and it makes perfect sense as to why Bloom have opted to leave “Cold” as a standalone release.
With In Passing, the painful wait for the ‘boat’ of death to arrive and the panic of who will be taken by it is well captured by heightened and intense moments, and the listener gets lost in the mindstorm of mortality related questions along with Bloom. The most impactful moments for me of In Passing are the surprise intimacies; the candid bedside conversations, the confessional admissions of what’s scariest about being a mortal being, and the gesture of connection toward the woman who has lost her father. But what also shines is the tight instrumentation and production which are so well done that it never overshadows, instead allowing the storytelling element to shine with full and cohesive support from the band.
Though dark of subject matter, and leaving a weighty emotional aftertaste, In Passing is an impressive follow-up to Past Tense that’s allowed Bloom to continue to broaden their sound while still feeling grounded in genuine meaning. And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go relisten so I know the words for whenever gigs are a thing in Melbourne again.
A captivating exploration of loss and grief as well as the act of creating about it. Bloom again assert their position as a band that can do no wrong. Honourable mention: The bass.
The plus of the songs not specifically sticking in my memory is that I'l have to listen to them a couple hundred times more.