With the Las Vegas shooting and the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma dominating our newsfeeds and inner monologues, it can be tempting to retreat from the world and hide under our blankets.
That’s the image the title of the new album from Bay Area post-punk band Flesh World, Into the Shroud, initially brings to mind. But rather than evoking a cloak under which to disappear, Into the Shroud speaks more to riding out the chaos of tumultuous times, painting a picture of mounting tension and paranoia. “Into the shroud / I’m spiral bound,” sings vocalist Jess Scott on the album's titular track, alluding to an impending storm of anxiety and paranoia.
It's “not that I have this massive, intense struggle with anxiety, but I do have it,” says the singer in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where she's been living for the past year while the rest of the band resides in San Francisco and Oakland. "For me, [Into the Shroud] meant peering into the cyclone of not being in total control of how I feel."
Into the Shroud, released this month on Dark Entries Records, has steadily garnered national attention. The album’s lead single, “Destination Moon," got a glowing review from NPR. Flesh World also recently returned from a national tour with Sheer Mag, the buzzworthy Philadelphia power-pop band whom The Fader dubbed “the best band nobody can sign."
Though Scott founded Flesh World with guitarist Scott Moore only five years ago, in many ways, the band’s origin story reflects San Francisco’s storied past as a hub for dreamers and artists: According to the band's oft-repeated lore, Scott and Moore met in San Francisco’s Panhandle district at the former headquarters of the influential punk fanzine Maximum Rocknroll. There, they bonded over their genre-agnostic music tastes and eventually embarked on their unlikely collaboration. Moore came from the hardcore band Limp Wrist, which has been around since 1998 and is practically synonymous with queer punk. Scott was previously the band leader of indie rock band Brilliant Colors -- Limp Wrist's polar opposite, with washed-out, psychedelic instrumentation and hazy vocals.
Scott recalls how Brilliant Colors sometimes opened for Limp Wrist before she and Moore decided to start Flesh World. "That used to be kind of the cool thing about San Francisco: Because the scene was so small and everyone's bands didn't sound the same, it was kind of just like, if you wanted to hang out, your band would play. It didn't matter what it sounded like."
As Flesh World, the band members combined Scott’s unpolished, wispy pop vocals and bright distorted guitar playing with Moore’s dense guitar riffs, which evoke the speed and agility of hardcore minus its aggression. A driving, steady rhythm section courtesy of bassist Andrew Luttrell and drummer Sam Lefebvre (a journalist and occasional KQED Arts contributor) amps up Flesh World's somewhat melancholic melodies, making them more substantial and robust. The band dubbed this dynamic fusion “dream punk” -- a fitting description for the juxtaposition between the album’s celestial timbre and bubbling swell of energy.
While Scott and Moore both identify as queer, LGBTQ identity isn’t at the forefront of Flesh World. Instead, Scott, an avid reader and cinephile, took inspiration from a variety of queer cultural icons for her lyrics on the album’s eight tracks. “To me, it seems incredibly obvious that Scott [Moore] and I are gay based on talking to us for five seconds -- and the writers we reference and the films and painters and stuff like that,” she says, adding that her influences included early 20th-century filmmaker Jean Cocteau -- whose work is referenced on several Smiths album covers -- and Cookie Mueller, a writer and actress who starred in several John Waters films.
Flesh World's collage of sounds and influences might come off as an odd combination -- even to the band members themselves -- but on Into the Shroud it blends seamlessly.
"I can almost certainly say neither [Moore nor I] thought we’d even record when we started," Scott laughed, "let alone still be tramping our words around five years later."
Flesh World performs at the Elbo Room in San Francisco on Oct. 4. More information here.