EP Review: Downhaul – ‘Squall’

Posted: by The Editor

When Downhaul released Proof in 2021, it was the best thing the band had ever done. They embraced an earthier, more textured sound than their previous releases, toying with space and ambience and dynamics in creative ways. Songs like single “Eyesight” and “Circulation,” the record’s five-minute centerpiece, relied on the creation and release of tension in a way they’d never attempted before. Now, with the release of Squall, Downhaul proves that their experimentation on Proof wasn’t a fluke. These four songs take the foundation laid down by the best songs on that record and drive even further in that direction, resulting in the band’s strongest and most cohesive release to date.

Each song on Squall has its own arc, rising and falling with a newfound dynamism that feels natural but never predictable. The more elaborate songwriting and less conventional structures make the introspective emo of the band’s early material feel pedestrian, juvenile by comparison; even a song like opener “Fracture,” which comes the closest to the hook-forward alt rock of Before You Fall Asleep, demonstrates a restraint heretofore unseen from the Richmond band, teasing a hook for two and a half minutes before letting it loose. The track ends with a showy, tremolo-heavy guitar solo that’d be wholly out of place on any of the band’s previous releases. Like “Fracture,” the following “Sink” is a study in contrasts, building its first verse only to pull back and rebuild from scratch in verse two before pulling the same trick; it’s only in the song’s final thirty seconds that they release the tension that’d been brewing in one of the EP’s catchiest moments.

Earlier in their career Downhaul shared stages with bands like Charmer, Remo Drive, and Future Teens—bands whose brand of emo was shot through with pop, who emphasized hooks over atmospherem and all good bands—but these days Downhaul’s taking cues more from the likes of Caracara or Foxing, figuring out how many various styles songs can careen through while still settling into a rousing chorus. Penultimate “Autumn” is a perfect example, running through three different verses before its bridge slows down and ramps things up, heavy, hazy guitar tones nearly overtaking Gordon Phillips’ voice. 

The closing “Up” is the EP’s softest moment, the one song that never delivers on the promise of a crescendo. Instead it’s brisk and autumnal, an acoustic track not unlike the work on Phillips’ recent solo LP, spinning together the guitars and his voice like silk. Where the band has attempted such songs before (notably on Proof’s semi-interlude “The Ladder), it’s the first Downhaul song to fully commit to its acoustic framing as a full song, not just as a stop on a journey. It’s a subtle way to close out Squall, Downhaul’s subtlest release yet, and it’s proof in itself of how far they’ve come.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great Phenomenal

Squall is out now.


Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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