Cellar Dwellar – When does it stop feeling like a dream?
Toward the end of the manic superhero film Donnie Darko, Drew Barrymore’s character (a teacher) explains to her class on her final day why many claim the phrase “cellar door” is the most beautiful combination of words in the English language. A New York Times editorial from 2010 even tackled the issue, comparing the phrase to poetry in the “either or both” sense. Cellar door—a usually uninhabitable, hidden corner of one’s home—is also alluring to the ears and has been touted by respected writers throughout history such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Much like in Donnie Darko, in its literal sense cellar door can be viewed as both a portal and a dungeon below Grandma Sparrow’s house.
Regardless of its beauty, cellar door is a dreamy phase and one that Columbus psychedelic outfit Cellar Dwellar taps into in more ways than one. Cellar Dwellar’s When does it stop feeling like a dream?, which was released on March 5, is a musical lesson in universe bending with its expansive, mood-throttling turns. Like how any good score guides and accompanies your emotions through a given scene, this album begins by taking you down a melancholy path with the aptly titled “Cellar Door.” Suddenly, you’re thrown into a droney stew of noises with “In Bardo,” which about 45 seconds in, takes a faster, louder, more progressive approach. Forty-five seconds later, and we’re dropped back into the world of trancier psych music with a Twin Peaks quote to boot. And with 45 seconds to go, the band picks up the tempo again in a sprint toward the end.
From these ears, it’s hard to ignore progressive psychedelic monoliths who paved the way for that style of music, in both a cinematic and psych music sense. A lot of times I was even reminded of the psychedelic tinge that peeked its head via the means of sample-free rap from artists like A$AP Rocky on “XXI (Synchronicity).” When asked about where the band’s headspace was at when recording the record, I was given a few different answers according to the different members. Cellar Dwellar’s drummer Nico Linik is entranced by King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard and the Australian psych scene in general, while the band’s bassist Nick Partridge “was everywhere from Muse to Tool while recording.”
“While I was writing everything with the guitars, vocal melodies, harmonies, etc., I was super into bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Deftones, and other bands that combined emo and shoegaze,” said lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Cade.
Lyrics like, “Aren’t we all but sleepers who live inside a dream?” from “Dweller on the Threshold” seem personal in a way but, much like in the “either or both” sense of cellar door, can be interpreted as a thought directed at the void or the listener. If you’re going to begin to dissect the idea of dream cinema, David Lynch films and Donnie Darko are pretty great places to start. There was a point during the infancy of my David Lynch viewing that I would become very upset. Like with most prolific artists, the easiest—and only path—to begin understanding Lynch is by watching interviews of him. Once one grasps the concept that his films are loose interpretations of dreams (mostly ones had while awake), it becomes easier to submit to not coming to a literal definition for his art. There are many times while listening to this album that I found myself questioning how linear the storytelling was or how the different concepts linked. Despite coming to a conclusion or not, it makes this project enjoyable to digest with many takes.
It’s initial listens to albums like this 30-minute LP that have you checking whatever device you’re listening on for the title of a new track, sensing a new style. While some see this as a turnoff when bands delve into a shape-shifting territory, Cellar Dwellar excels in maintaining genre and storytelling structure despite changes occurring. As effective psychedelic music tends to do, Cellar Dwellar’s many sounds and twists are woven into a single trackthat is effective guided listening, one that’s beautiful or mysterious.