“Filling each and every hole/ Evolution’s only goal,” mumbles Dylan Sharp about halfway through Dim Light. The album is the first LP from Gun Outfit, a ragtag horde of Olympians whose loose, levitating punk rock conceals as much as it discloses. Sharp’s laconic lyricism, Calvin-manqué baritone, and woozy delivery make for an intensely private record, and it’s in this logic of withholding that Gun Outfit come alive. Harmonically, rhythmically, and so on, Sharp and accomplices envelop us, describing a sonic field but never pushing its plenitude. In this space, we’re left to piece together the fragments, those minor chords and slow-burning hums that round out Gun Outfit’s vocabulary. The tempo and timbre leap from punk’s earlier chapters, but seldom has a band seemed less concerned with getting in the last word.
This doxa of incompleteness shouldn’t be read to debase the band’s approach as anything less than mature. Instead, Gun Outfit’s songs — eight of them here, plus the digital reissue of three from last year’s sublime 7-inch, also on PPM — thrive on these lacunae. Part of the fun is guessing how they might be reconciled — but if that never comes to pass, no problem. This dynamic is acted out on the tonal level, for sure: on “Cocaine Woman,” in particular, the menacing, meandering guitar leads tango with woollier rhythm figures. It’s just as potent on the level of structure, in the pauses, pitch bends, and swells that sew verse to chorus. As much as Dim Light can feel like a finger painting, a perverse, amazing dialectic of happenstance and intelligent design courses through its icy veins.
Punk this capacious has friends nowadays in L.A., so it’s not altogether shocking that PPM, the label run by Dean Spunt, late of No Age, sopped up the record. Gun Outfit can channel that scene’s polymathic bootgaze, but their thick sound isn’t so much spacey as spatial: if ‘ambience’ can presuppose an oppressive fullness, a ubiquity, Gun Outfit’s jams just coalesce, vocals maybe audible, somewhere in that chasm between the high end and the low.
Inevitably, then, the little things count in spades. When, on “In the Dark,” Sharp reaches beyond his indoor voice, it feels like a revelation. “Your Will,” one of the EP tracks, is by all accounts a fuzzfest, but they tread so lightly that every dawdling chord change seems to carry deep consequences. “Troubles Like Mine” periodically dispenses one-bar breathers for drummer Reuben Storey, each more dramatic than the last; its opening 1.5 seconds are subtly among the year’s best.
The record’s holes define, even constitute, its sonic landscape, and any quest to plug them gravely miss the point. Gun Outfit’s take on punk finds utterly compelling expression in Dim Light, as something suggested, limned, connoted — but never declared.