Floating Room, False Baptism
The opening track of Floating Room’s sophomore album, False Baptism, is sung from two perspectives: that of a dog who longs for freedom, and that of its master, who fears losing control. “I don’t like how weak I am,” the dog laments, “when I’m with you.”
Despite all the talk about leashes and parks, “Dog” captures the very human experience of feeling limited by someone else. Led by Maya Stoner, Floating Room’s excellent 2016 debut, Sunless, sifted through the emotional wreckage of an abusive relationship. False Baptism does too, but with clearer eyes—processing trauma can take a lifetime, so obviously, it can also take multiple records.
Floating Room began as the bedroom recording project of Stoner and her partner Kyle Bates, who share vocal/guitar/synth duties, and has since expanded to include drummer Sonia Weber of goth rockers Alien Boy and an ensemble of collaborators and live members. Stoner has been an active member of Portland’s music community for the past 13 years, playing in bands (including Bates’ project Drowse, as well as the now-defunct groups Forest Park and Sabonis), booking shows, and co-running indie label Good Cheer Records.
“Playing music allows me to be both vulnerable and brave simultaneously,” she says. “I am the most honest when songwriting, perhaps even with myself. ‘Dog’ is an example of this—I actually wrote that song before starting Floating Room, while I was still in in an abusive relationship.”
False Baptism was recorded by Nicholas Wilbur at The Unknown, an old church-turned-recording studio in Anacortes, Washington, owned by Wilbur and Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie. Stoner says she vomited the whole drive up north to record the album, and again when the band returned there to mix.
“I thought it was a sign, that maybe writing these songs and putting them out might exorcise certain things out of me,” she says. “Since recording them I’ve realized that healing is not a cut and dry process. Each person I have been will always be a part of me—including the survivor, the psychonaut, and even the god-fearing child.”
Throughout False Baptism, Stoner ruminates on toxic love, god complexes, the claustrophobic softness expected of women, the desire to cover her body with tattoos of swords, and getting high on the belief that something—whether it’s drugs, religion, or love—can bring you salvation.
Standout track “Acid Queen” sample soundbites from “Getting High on Krystle,” a 2011 documentary about Krystle Cole, the former girlfriend of Gordon Todd Skinner, who once operated the world’s most productive LSD laboratory out of a decommissioned nuclear-missile silo in Kansas. They lived in the subterranean palace for years, tripping and losing touch with reality, but Skinner’s manipulation and brutal abuse eventually led to their breakup. “You thought it would be a baptism,” Stoner sings listlessly on “Acid Queen.” “You thought you would be saved/But he just held you under the water.”
“The term ‘false baptism’ is about mistaking what will bring you salvation,” she explains. “I was baptized as a kid, so maybe that’s why the imagery appeals to me. I’ve always felt it would be nice to wash away the past and become someone new; these songs themselves are an example of false baptism.”
The disorientation of resurfacing and starting life over is reflected with the band’s raw, gorgeous, and achingly intimate “gray pop,” a distinctly Pacific Northwestern strain of indie rock that draws from slowcore, lo-fi, dream, and noise pop. Where the home recorded Sunless sounded dazed, numb, and overcast, False Baptism rages like an angry ocean. It’s chaotic, but dynamic—Stoner and Bates’s guitar lines react and dissolve into each other with churning waves of distortion while farfisa, vibraphone and synths sparkle like reflected stars. Stoner sings with a newfound conviction, making songs like “Dog” and “Seashell” into full-blown indie rock anthems.
False Baptism is full of epiphanies: Maybe love shouldn’t make you weak. Maybe the bravest love doesn’t ask you to surrender your whole self. Learning to float is always more difficult than letting yourself fall, but—as Floating Room proves here—there’s tremendous power in doing so.