Some of the greatest bands you’ve never heard are active in the Portland indie scene. Whether their anonymity is the fault of an oversaturated local indie market or a choice to stay on ground level depends on the artist and their choices, but one such band who may well emerge is Us Underwater. With the help of an artfully composed combination of input, their debut EP, Through Separation, is a great first step with a mix of harsh vocals, slick melody, and an all-around successful instrumental performance. With high-quality production and natural writing chops, they’re about as well put together as a new band could hope to be. What’s more, the frosh work from this post-hardcore group is anything but empty noise; they deliver emotional material that hurts as it heals.
The EP is as much an introductory resume as it is a firm goodbye. It opens with “The Messenger,” a track with a buttery smooth vocal inflection. This vocal performance joins a gripping guitar intro and wise, paternally-significant lyrics to forge the heart of this collection. “Lost in the Fire” is where the lead vocals play to a funky bass line laid down by Rick Fletcher, highlighted by a well-executed bridge with a percussive build and riotous breakdown.
It’s in the body of the remaining three tracks that Us Underwater reveal the purpose behind the album. “Transmission A”eloquently summarizes, in spoken word, “When that love leaves us, when the whole of understanding crumbles, it is the measure with which we grieve that determines our future.” It is with this wisdom that “Transmission B” uses unclean vocals to describe the complicated experience of losing yourself when someone you love is suddenly gone. With one repeating line in the bridge, everything in the EP is tied together. Vocalist Jon Osorio proclaims painfully, “I didn’t get to tell my father goodbye…”
As seems conclusive for this EP, “Awake” puts on one last brave face to confront the intimacy of loss. Sonically, it comes across dark, but, lyrically, it is all about closure and acceptance. As Osorio seems to be relaying a mortally final conversation, you can hear the wound within him closing. The EP takes its leave with the haunting words that somehow imply eternal rest: “Now it’s my time to sleep.” Stay awake, Us Underwater; we look forward to your full-length debut.