“I feel sick / I feel cheap / I feel clear” sings Jules Hale near the beginning of ‘Sick’, the seventh track on Loceke, the debut full length from Den-Mate. Jules Hale is looking back. She has climbed through the swamp, and is now turning to the next chapter in her life.
Before making the record, Hale moved from rural Virginia to Washington D.C. Moving from the country to a major metropolis is a choice many make in their early years, and one that is almost essential if one wants to become some type of artist. The decision has forced Hale to look inside and find her own identity, which stems from a haunted past. Loceke is filled with yesterday’s demons and fears about new surroundings, but is ultimately about moving forward. And as Den-Mate know, it is something we can only do by looking back.
Three decades of indie rock can be traced through Den-Mate’s debut LP. There is the dreamy despair of the Joy Divison-influenced ‘Sick’, that Bristol sound that drives ‘XOSO’, and the echoing distant manic laughter of early Karen O on ‘DC Junkie’. They know their sound has roots, and they are keen students focused on following the lines to their own sonic identity.
Loceke is filled with haunting tales of humid dusk. Haze seems to be almost everywhere, and shimmering reflections of the past bounce off every wall. The album’s opening track “Charlotte” crawls out from underneath the porch as the street lights flicker on. It’s soft and shadow-filled as Hale tries to confirm to herself, “I’m not a shadow”. It’s an essential moment that points towards the LP’s central question… am I more than just a reflection of my past experiences?
The singer next finds herself stumbling through the drug-riddled streets of the Trainspotting-reminiscent ‘XOSO’. Hale has moved on from the rural porch to the concrete metropolis, only to find she can’t run away from herself – but there is something new and sexy, even if it’s a bit sinister, in this new locale. Things only get darker on the following ‘DC Junkie’, where the guitar riff creeps along behind as laughter echoes in the distance.
The crux of the album can be found in the moments between the previously mentioned track and the next, ‘Country’. Hale has a choice, return home or move through her fear. That 90s feeling still haunts and multiple personalities are discussed, but a new clear honesty is emerging, and here, Hale is not afraid to let her voice soar high to pop-adjacent moments, lending fearless credibility to the less commercial feelings, “I shook off your goodbyes,” she is ready to move forward into the unknown.
No one can completely move on from their past, it is still part of what makes us. And for Hale that is still haunting, which is apparent from the layered sounds that fill the remainder of the album, but light manages to cut through parts of those final tracks, sometimes in the form of the singer’s angelic vocals; at others times through more buoyant, 80s-esque sonic direction; but mostly through moments of clear realization and understanding.
On ‘Sick’, Hale sings the previously mentioned “I feel sick / I feel cheap / I feel clear” line, after telling her listeners, “I ate my words today / What a bitter taste.” She is being honest with herself. She still feels alone and lost, but there is clarity and she knows she must move forward. The album ends with Hale repeating, “I’m on my way”. She knows she can’t run away from herself, but she can run toward some new landscapes, and she has; finding something new and deeper in the process, and that is where Den-Mate’s Loceke blossoms.
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