R E V I E W
Bathysphere - Heaven Is Other People (trace / untrace)
By Barnaby Greebles
Our knowledge of the deep sea has crept forward at a trickle. Recent documentaries give us glimpses of diaphanous, oxygen-conserving creatures lurking at Cimmerian depths, feeding opportunistically off sunken whales. But in the 1930s less was known. Off the coast of Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, the naturalist, William Beebe, and engineer, Otis Barton, broke records, reaching the twilight zone at a time when trade and fishing dominated. Cramming themselves into their “Bathysphere,” a small steel orb with fused-quartz windows in which they waved fans made of palm leaves for circulation, they sighted shrimp and jellyfish at depths never before traversed.
“Heaven is Other People,” the title of Dunedin band Bathysphere’s debut album, decries the isolation evoked by their band name’s hydrous depths. Instead, it derives the flipside of Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous “hell is other people” quip, which is taken as a criticism of our tendency to scrutinise or compartmentalise each other.
Admittedly, I’m a little late in cottoning onto this gem which was obscured by the ever-burgeoning Ōtepoti music scene. With the addition of Bathysphere frontperson Julie Dunn’s label, Trace/Untrace Records, the southern city has begun spewing out even more than its usual quotient. Obviously, platforming a swathe of local artists was not enough for Dunn who honed her soporific drawl at solo shows around the city, drawing in musicians from bands such as Asta Rangu, Fazed on a Pony, Koizilla, Males, and Space Bats, Attack! to provide a musical juggernaut as ballast for her tunes. The lineup injects a neuroleptic tension that carries Dunn’s well developed asseverations to a state of transcendent inertia.
I enjoy music that strives for novelty. Of course, there’s always a middle ground between otherworldly and familiar ideas, but it seems a given, that as a musician develops, they will venture into bygone soundscapes searching for fresh inspiration. While Shoegaze branched into Blackgaze and the more mainstream, electro-inspired Nu Gaze, Bathysphere evoke the genre’s origins, throwing in elements of other traditions (such as Noise Rock) along the way, but bringing a raw intensity and a sense of spontaneity that push deeper than where "The Scene That Celebrates Itself” kicked off thirty-odd years ago.
Live tracked in a hallway, Heaven is Other People is a crisp listen. It plays like an on-the-spot blat, unforced, heartfelt, and brimming with the vicissitudes of winter. Bathysphere set the clock ticking, tasseling the listener to a pulse, hypnotic enough to endure, one reasons, at very least for the three minutes or so on the count. But rerunning a trodden groove was never the intention. Instead, spontaneous swerves, harmonic curveballs, riffing off on a tangent are the routine. Sunken and indecipherable vocals could be interpreted as avoiding a socially defined role, which, according to Sartre, is what objectifies a person and deprives them of freedom. The few audible lyric snippets point to personal or relational themes (It feels the same as it did before / I built a shelter while you were gone to sleep in). The formula allows the music to rise and encompass the listener in a wonderous world, as if being plunged into the murky depths, peering out through fused-quartz windows, struggling to catch flickers of life, the embodiment of heaven glimmering through the darkness.