Stagnation is an ugly thing. Waters, once teeming with life, become rancid without a flow of movement. It’s also been said that once we stop learning, we should effectively be dead. If we retread familiar soundscapes, eat the same damn foods all the time, and generally never leave that comfortable, insular bubble that we willingly trap ourselves in on a day-to-day basis, are we really growing? Have we gotten so used to where we are, as individuals and as a society, that eventual growth is not only impossible, but also not desirable? I was thinking this as I was listening to Falaise‘s third album, A Place I Don’t Belong To, after not being so won over by their last album, My Endless Immensity, back in 2017. Besides hurting my eardrums, it felt like they were simply regurgitating sounds that An Autumn for Crippled Children and Alcest were already plying.
And to be fair, Falaise is still doing that, but at least they’ve become better songwriters. After a beautifully moving piano intro, “Once, My Home” gently opens up with a beautiful, shimmery guitar melody and some shoegaze-inspired drumming. Then they try blasting your face off while simultaneously moping about with tremolo melodies and cavernous shrieks that don’t sound so much like someone trying to be kvlt or tr00, but rather conjuring feelings of loss and lament. In other words, a lot like Deafheaven. But unlike on their last album, the Italian duo have crafted several passages that are not only memorable, but also mournful and even a bit endearing.
Those passages lift A Place I Don’t Belong To to levels matching their contemporaries, and at times even giving them a run for their money. Album standout “An Emptiness Full of You” starts off with all the post-blackness your poor heart can contain, but then fades away to the sounds of a storm, until a beautiful piano melody and some sweeping, painfully mournful harmonies before blasting away on a more hopeful note. Elsewhere, the title track and closer “Holding Nothing” sees the duo’s knack for those sad-yet-optimistic moments flourish, pushing their profile further than ever before. The balance of gentle and abrasive can be tricky to navigate, but Falaise proved to be more successful on here than on albums past.
That’s not to say that A Place I Don’t Belong To is flawless. Matteo Guarnello’s shrieks, while caustic and shrill, don’t offer much in terms of dynamics or deviation. Also, they cling a bit to melodies and motifs a bit too long, such as the intro riff to “Leaves in the Wind.” But the biggest hurdle found on here lies in the production. While the individual instruments have a bit more breathing room this time, they’re still a gelatinous blob when the duo unleashes Tremolo-and-Blast Mode, which is one of their two modes of attack.
Still, this is a massive improvement over My Endless Immensity, and given that Falaise is still a relatively young band, there’s a ton of room for continued growth and maturation. I was worried that Falaise would fall into all the same trappings as their contemporaries, but A Place I Don’t Belong To sees them aiming upwards and outwards, and the results are oftentimes pleasing and surprising. Again, a watchful eye gazes in their direction, but for now, I’m pleased with what I’ve heard.