Deb Never – ‘Intermission’ review: Alt-star delivers lo-fi grunge ballads from lockdown

Never gravitates towards her grungy Pacific Northwest upbringing in this disarming batch of isolation songs

Lockdown has afforded many the much-needed scope to kick back and take stock of things, but it’s provided fertile creative ground for some. Charli XCX’s new album was born out of quarantine while Little Simz used the opportunity to go back to basics with a new EP.

LA-based artist Deb Never is the latest to assemble a collection of quarantine-written and recorded songs with ‘Intermission’.The surprise release to support frontline workers comes as the most unguarded work yet from the artist. Since 2019’s debut EP ‘House On Wheels’ – which transcends elements of grunge, emo and rap – she’s since worked with everyone from Kenny Beats to Brockhampton in the last year.

Yet despite this rapid rise finding beauty in simplicity is nothing new for her or the groundbreaking bunch she’s held rank with recently. Dominic Fike and Mk.gee are also taking a similar approach of laying bare disarming guitar disciplines with impacting production.

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During dreamy and rough-edged opener ‘blue room’, Never casually answers a question from a flatmate and plays through gentle background kitchen clatter. Such everyday distractions offer a wholesome familiarity as she scratchily slides along the guitar neck, but she’s deep in a zone, tuned-out from the immediate world. During ‘dangerous’, distant sirens place you in suburbia as she sings over a soft chugging guitar, “Take me back to when things were easy / no one warned me how much it hurt / I like it when you tell me your stories”. Just as you’re lulled into this toiling love song – a hard-hitting drum swell washes like a slow-burning panic attack.

The songs play out like angsty grunge ballads intentionally left in an unpolished state, which is a surprising move for someone who told NME thatI’m not actually that comfortable with vulnerability, that’s why I have all that production.” Instead, it’s her glimmering guitar-playing that’s allowed to shine throughout – most notably on ‘last train’ as she sings “I could wear my favourite clothes and dress up for you, like we’re the only ones in the world.” The track is also the first to blend in some depthful drum beats as she lets loose with vocals akin to Snail Mail or Soccer Mommy.

‘april mud’ does stray into more production heavy territory with ominous bass whomps and effect-heavy vocals. Ironically ‘end of the world’ comes as a brighter moment, offering the sweetened nineties throwback vibes of Beabadoobee, before final track ‘not okay’ leaves us on a more reflective note, again with those delicate guitar lines as she sings “But if you had someone who made you feel alive / would it be enough to keep you by my side”. 

This collection makes a compelling case for cutting back on studio budgets when society returns to a sense of normality. Never proves she could quite easily forge a standalone path as a vulnerable grunge/emo star like so many have in recent years – but with such a vast palette of sonic influences and collaborators at her disposal, it doesn’t feel like she has any intentions to rest on just those talents.

Details

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  • Release date: May 22
  • Record label: Self-released
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