The 2017 City Pages Best New Band emerged from an ocean of sound on their self-titled debut EP in 2016. Its five songs spanned glorious soundscapes, from gauzy cosmic traipses to sexy bass-driven funk. The EP felt like a search, but a search that never turned inward.
Two and a half years later, that search continues, and the band has resurfaced (less guitarist/cellist Johnny Kermott) with an unsettling account of the journey so far. Their second EP Double Goer, released July 27, is an internal spelunking, a descent into a subconscious full of uncomfortable parallels. Playing out in a sequence of hallucinogenic undulations, the record is not a destination but another precarious moment teetering on the edge of understanding what Poolboy is, and what it may become.
Ahead of their release show tomorrow at Icehouse , we sat down with Poolboy and uncovered some of the big, uncomfortable truths of Double Goer, song by song.
Double Goer opens with metamorphosis. “Give me some personal space,” Seth Conover sings in a disturbing falsetto. “Just a couple seconds, and I will change my shape.” The line is so eerie it almost sounds like a threat. Beneath those words, a toy piano tinks out a horror movie scale. There is no other instrumentation.
“I love how sparse the chorus is,” says keyboardist Jeff Dreblow. “It feels very naked.”
“Naked” is a good word for it. “Exposed” is a better one. On “Personal Space,” Conover grapples with a fear of commitment. Though he’s careful not to characterize the opener as “a song about a girl,” he admits that it comes from the emotional strife of sacrificing your privacy for an intimate relationship.
The metamorphosis is more than lyrical, though—Double Goer is a drastic shift in aesthetic for Poolboy. “Personal Space” kicks off their transition from the spacey jam band days of Poolboy. Where once they were diviners of universal forces, now they’re turning walls of feedback into a mirror through which to understand the forces within.
“This is the song that really paved the way for what our sound is now,” bassist Travis Thorp says. “We’ve gone from a standard indie rock band to something bigger.”
Conover sought to create a feeling of drama in “Personal Space” by balancing those one-on-one choruses with theatrical waves of sound. The song moves in diametric swaths, each uncomfortably close swing feeling like an incursion.
“It’s the most anxious song on the EP,” Conover says. “There’s a side of everybody that emerges when they’re all by themselves.”
Double Goer was initially conceived as a 10-song full-length album, but financial constraints forced the band go shorter. That original project had a narrative arc that Poolboy mostly abandoned, but the transitios from “Personal Space” to “Corrections” offers a glimpse of what might’ve been.
Once again, Conover undergoes a transformation, but this time, it’s positioned as a glorification—a way to shed the imperfections of his previous form and rise to a newer, more sanctified plane of being.
In Double Goer’s most indelible moment, Conover repeatedly chants “Are you not disturbed? Are you disturbed?” It’s a question that answers itself more and more with every repetition: If you aren’t already disturbed, then you should be.
“It sounds threatening,” Conover says. “‘Corrections’ [is about] trying to will yourself to change, disrupting yourself. The narrator is trying that, but it’s almost delusional.”
As the song progresses with big upswings of violin, the narrator fumbles through a stranger’s party, falling down the stairs into a darkened isolation. That’s where Poolboy leaves the story, ending with on a thumping, despondent groove from drummer Brett Bjornrud.
A1996 Wallace Shawn play provides the subtext for Double Goer’s third song. The Designated Mourner tells the story of a nation caught between a genocidal fascist regime and the communist guerillas warring against them.
“Designated Mourner” centers on a scene of someone falling down the stairs, a clear tie back to “Corrections,” though the songs lack the fraternal tie of Double Goer’s opening pair. Instead, “Designated Mourner” uses the basement imagery of its predecessors to unearth the pain and anguish of living in a decreasingly just America.
“Coming from ‘Corrections,’ it’s more of a macro look at things,” Conover says. “but from the perspective of someone who loathes themselves and feels an impotence about everything going on.”
Conover wrote “Designated Mourner” on the day Philando Castile was murdered by St. Paul police officers. Poolboy took that day off rehearsal, and the tension that Conover felt internally boiled over into his lyric book. “Grace is not enough,” he sings over somber downtempo guitar. “Love feels like a construct.”
“That was the summer things really came to a head with all the conflicts in our country,” Dreblow says. “What I get from that song is the sense that we can’t mourn enough.”
On Double Goer, everything passes through a filter of reflection and iteration. There are two components to everything, each referring back to the other. That’s why the band obscured the title track “Doppelganger,” transforming it into the EP’s final title of Double Goer.
As the title suggests, “Doppelganger” sees the emergence of a second self—a reflection come to life. But it’s not a hallucination or an undoing. Instead, this emergence presents the opportunity for Conover to grow and further know himself.
“I was definitely writing about this projection of yourself that does all the naughty shit that your presentable, Minnesotan self would not acknowledge,” Conover says. “Seeing that side, the dark self, it’s a self you need. It’s not evil, it’s just something you need to learn how to integrate and manage.”
Poolboy gives life to Conover’s doppelganger with bluesy, whimsical guitar lines. Dreblow seems to wander around the keyboard while Conover confesses the greedy, sexual sins of his other. This could be a callback to Poolboy’s early, less introspective days.
“The old EP has all this smarminess,” Thorp says. “You don’t hear that on this record.” Dreblow jumps in: “No, this is an expulsion.”
“Doppelganger” ends with a freeform jam, as the existential probing culminates in a riff-filled throwback to Poolboy and the band exorcises the baggage wrought by their former selves.
“Bad Apples” is about Conover’s search for wisdom. He finds himself beneath an apple tree, and in a biblical moment, eats an apple, and he ends up glimpsing his own death. Perhaps his vision is that same that plays out on “Designated Mourner”—Conover asphyxiating with his head in the oven—but at any rate, the knowledge unburdens him. It allows him to free himself from the reflective basement and persist with the awareness that things will improve until their unavoidable end.
“That song is definitely hopeful,” Conover says. “It’s about accepting the context that you’re in. It’s a step toward progression. Out of the basement.”
“This death is more of a transcendence,” Dreblow adds.
“Bad Apples” is the closest semblance to a pop song that Poolboy manage on Double Goer. It’s less Circa Survive and more Dirty Projectors, and in its near-7-minute run, the song undergoes several transitions, eventually curling off into an eternal static. Bjornrud designed the din as the album’s last unsettling moment—a reminder that even enlightenment can be fleeting and there are more reflections to overcome
“It goes long enough that it puts you in a trance,” Bjornrud says. “But right as you get into that trance, the end snaps you out of it.”
With: Jennie Lawless and Warren Thomas Fenzi
When: 9:30 p.m. Wed Aug. 1
Tickets: $7; more info here