Katie Gately: Loom review – nightmarish orchestrated despair

Ben Beaumont-Thomas
Katie Gately: Loom review – nightmarish orchestrated despair. (Houndstooth)Earthquakes, shovels and screaming peacocks are all sampled in a bombastic and occasionally ingenious album

A nail-bomb of grief explodes in this second album by US musician Katie Gately, trauma seeming to rip open its edges. It was written while her mother was dying from a rare form of cancer; the title suggests this horror looming into her life, but also somewhere she can thread it together and tie it down.

It is a stupendously big and loud record. On Allay, multitracked Holly Herndon-ish vocals wrap around a commanding lead line from Gately. “I am living in a womb made of dirt and dust,” she sings as boulders seem to splinter around her, the kind of percussion used in trailers for Marvel movies. The 10-minute centerpiece, Bracer, is more massive still. Majestic drum rolls, as if heralding the arrival of a satanic princess, slowly turn into an insistent beat that is thrillingly syncopated into something dancehall-adjacent; its final 80 seconds is a coronal mass-ejection of white-hot sound. The album features samples of earthquakes, shovels, shredders and screaming peacocks – an industrial-era Bosch painting turned into music.

Related: Katie Gately: ‘I’m a pretty diehard Billy Joel fan’

This nightmare is expertly arranged throughout, though in the second half the maximalism starts to feel like a means of papering over weak songwriting: the melodies on Tower are both undercooked and fussily overwrought, while the ones on Flow feel like an afterthought. The ambient bookends, Ritual and Rest, distinguish themselves with a subtle buzz of metallic sound haunting the bedrock of the mix but aren’t enormously arresting.

Gately is at her best and most distinctive when fleshing her ideas out into those big, ambitious song forms, another of which is Waltz. Ironically deploying the cutesy politesse of 3/4 time to demonstrate corrupted innocence is nothing new – think of any Tim Burton movie – but Gately’s version of this technique is skin-crawling in its malevolent heft. If you’re an evil confectioner whose sweet shop is hollowed out of a cursed oak tree, this is what you want to pipe out of your PA system.

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