We never get to know our true selves, as there is no such thing. No core being, no authentic version that isn’t a mere projection based on cultural expectations (reflecting or rejecting them), hemmed in by the limitations of language and associated thought patterns. Our entrapped and restricted performances of self become our very idea of self. We wear masks in every social situation, to the extent that the mask becomes all there is, regardless of how hard we might fight that eventuality. Rarely do we get the chance to be alone with ourselves – emphatically alone and isolated – to truly reflect on how we are when others are absent, perhaps our most genuine form of being.

Such ideas are at the very centre of Light Mirror. Drowse’s Kyle Bates spent a considerable part of 2018 in the remote regions of northern Iceland, a self-imposed exile from the world as part of an artists’ residency. The bleak beauty of the landscape, coupled with the acute sense of seclusion, has resulted in an album of intense personal introspection and aural wonder, layered with ideas of hope, desolation and redemption. As becomes obvious when time is spent contemplating our own selves, there are many versions of us which are entirely honest presentations of aspects of whatever it is that makes up our personality. Light Mirror uses an array of musical sources to illustrate this point, and there are many sides to this album. Shoegaze, slow core, dream pop, drone and even black metal influences intertwine to produce eleven songs of breathtaking intimacy and personal examination.

The album opens with ‘Imposter Syndrome’, a gently suffocating ambient instrumental track that wouldn’t be out of place on Tim Hecker’s best work (which is probably Harmony in Ultraviolet, if you’re asking). The sombre, descending piano spirals downwards and inwards, referencing the mood of introspection that is at the centre of Light Mirror. Gentle keyboard notes float here and there, seemingly of no significance in relation to the ominous unidirectional approach of the piano, but it is the interplay between the two which brings a sense of enlightenment, of a conscious challenge of mind and spirit. ‘Between Fence Posts’ comes next and it is impossible to hear this and not think of ‘Falling’ by Julee Cruise (you know the one, the theme tune to Twin Peaks). There are clear similarities in the opening bars, yet when the cascading guitars become ever more reverb-drenched for the chorus any fears of derivative writing are soon dissipated. Slowdive are another clear reference point, and the expansive sound of the guitars shimmer and chime and underpin Bates’ ethereal vocals which are as low in the mix whilst still being audible. It’s almost impossible to make out what he is singing, but the sense of melancholy is clear in his intonation, which is both soothing and lethargic. Other recurring reference points throughout the album are Nadja, Grouper and Mount Eerie.

Of all of the personal reflections on the album, none are more brutally honest than ‘Bipolar 1’. Bates’ diagnosis of Bipolar 1 is dealt with in a startling song which opens with the heartbreaking line “He’s not human/ a fire in black and white.” The stripping of humanity, and the evocation of the power of fire being eliminated by its loss of luminescence are raw and excruciating in their rejections of acceptance and purpose. The multi-layered vocals add to this sense of variations in “personality,” with the mix intricately moving one performance over another subtly yet effectively, as if the varying influences of the id, ego and super-ego are trying to outdo one another.

‘Oslo’ starts eerily with slow electronic bass beeps, a disembodied child’s voice and some creaking noises, before a heavily echoed keyboard and breathy vocals take over. The tempered wash of sound is a cocoon, enveloping the listener in a steely warmth which is both radiant and alien. The twin vocals of Bates and long-term collaborator Maya Stoner work their way around one another, as if two identities within the song are trying to work the other out. There is a high-pitched, strained sounding keyboard line which is shrill and evokes and idea of an old film soundtrack being warped in time. There is a very monochromatic feel to the album as a whole, desolate visual imagery being conjured up by the dissonant yet beautiful instrumentation.

There are what might even be called straightforward songs on Light Mirror, which showcase the range of the project. ‘Betty’ and ‘Shower Pt. 2’ are both pretty solid shoegaze tracks, the latter sounding like mbv era My Bloody Valentine with a sumptuously fragile vocal performance from Bates, which is hesitant and magnificent. Then there are tracks such as ‘Arrow’ and ‘Don’t Scratch the Wound’ which are simple, sparse songs which rely heavily on the ambience of the studio setting to give them full meaning and flesh them out.

Light Mirror is a great album. Drowse’s earlier two albums highlighted a tendency towards introspection and lyrical depth, but it is on this album that all of their stars align, and the promise of their earlier output comes to full fruition. There is a comfort and a beauty in being sad, and there is an almost oxymoronic quality to desolation where it becomes a life-affirming state, and all of these responses are in evidence when listening to this album. An album of glorious melancholy.