What Am I Doing?

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Considering that this is Lushes' debut, the way they balance experimentation and structure on What Am I Doing? is all the more impressive. James Ardery and Joel Myers' fondness for sudden and/or drastic changes in their songs recalls post-rock trailblazers such as Slint and June of 44 as well as the brainy and brawny sounds of contemporaries like Battles and Liars, but Lushes have their own take on arty rock. The way they shift from intricate playing to rattling riffs on "One Right Word" and teeter between lumbering and nimble on "Dead Girls" defines their mix of smarts and volume. Bachelorette's Annabel Alpers helps Lushes explore their contrasts with her creative production work. What Am I Doing? sounds nothing like her own music, but she makes sure the force behind their playing is almost tangible even on the quietest songs, and makes the most of the duo's fondness for coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. "Traffic" -- which uses an ever-present amp buzz as a layer of claustrophobic urban grit -- begins with gridlocked post-punk before expanding into galloping drums and soprano vocals that sound even freer by comparison. Lushes also play with space just as successfully as they explore textures and dynamics: the way the deceptively named "Harsh" and the ten-minute "Feastin" build from spring-loaded guitars to glowing synths feels like the musical equivalent of moving from a close-up to a wide shot. Myers and Ardery deliver a surprising amount of variations on these themes. "Warm Contagion" evokes heat shimmer and smoke in its mix of heavy and sparkling rock, while the shadowy album closer "Garden" is equal parts raw and ethereal. The duo's approach holds the album together more than any similarities in its songs; a less hyperactively creative band could pick any one of these tracks and expand it into an album's worth of material. It would be nice to hear Lushes spend more time with some of the sounds they introduce here, but What Am I Doing? never sounds scattered. Instead, the risks they take sound natural instead of obviously audacious.

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