Richmond, Virginia is very quietly in the midst of a musical renaissance. Its rap scene is as vibrant as ever, with Fly Anakin and Monday Night leading the strong and deep scene with their Mutant Academy Crew, and with acts like Ty Sorrell leading a dance music scene centered around the Ice Cream Social collective that is among the strongest in the country. RVA’s rock scene is similarly full of buzzing bands, Downhaul chief among them. The Richmond by way of Newport News band has been slowly building a deeply consistent catalogue, spanning several EPs going back to 2016, most recently being 2019’s Tornado Season, and one kick ass LP Before You Fall Asleep which was released a few months before Tornado Season. Downhaul is often lumped in with the emo genre tag but have a distinct twang that makes alt-country feel like a more appropriate genre label. The band just dropped “Standing Water” the first single off their hotly anticipated sophomore release PROOF due out later this year. With this track the group shows that while they’re reaching back in their memory bank for inspiration, the band hasn’t missed a beat.
Downhaul’s lead singer Gordon Phillips wrote a touching essay for FLOOD Magazine about the “Standing Water” and its inspirations which date back to Hurricane Irene hitting Newport News, VA when the whole gang was in college. As Gordon put it, all you need to know about the town is that it rains all the time and the water doesn’t go anywhere. It stands. In the essay he talked about the many small forgotten corners of Newport News where he had life changing conversations and formed lifelong friendships. For four years their lives were shaped by this small town buoyed by water and held together by a shipyard as its economic center. It’s a hardworking union town full of misfits learning to become the people they’d like to be someday, and Downhaul capture its energy well on “Standing Water”. The track has a calm ferocity to it, slowly picking up steam as Gordon recalls a number of different stories that took place in that humble town between the York and James Rivers. The track comes to a massive head with a ripping refrain that sees Gordon close with a gargantuan yell, “Suspension bridges carve east and west as the sea levels change beneath them. Candescent light trails drift toward the shipyard, and I still hear you talk. Captured in every landmark.” A line that serves as a reminder of how he has a memory forever captured in so many nooks and crannies of this town. The track quiets down at the close in preparation for the next as Gordon whispers that refrain over and over, letting it sink into your subconscious.
“Standing Water” is a testament to finding yourself in a random corner of the world and making it a part of you as you become a part of it. The lion statues by the bridge, the parish priest who wrangles you into coming to mass, the Wendy’s that’s always there for you at the end of the night, they all become small a part of who you are, all as the sea level shifts up and down beneath your feet. It’s a beautiful ode to a town that breaths life into the rest of Virginia and just a small slice of the fury on that Downhaul has in store for PROOF.