Short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.
Human Taxonomy by Winter Severity Index
I know it’s May, school’s out for summer, and the days are getting warmer — but any season is the right time for some good darkwave that evokes the depths of winter, and Rome’s Winter Severity Index is some very good darkwave indeed. Originally the solo project of Simona Ferruci, Winter Severity Index lives up to its name with iced-over synths, brittle guitars, crushed rhythms, and androgynous vocals. The Soft Moon is the closest contemporary comparison — both Ferruci and Luis Vasquez draw from the same dark pools of sound — but Human Taxonomy also contains shades of Writ on Water, Lycia’s elegant gloom, and Pornography-era Cure.
“Waiting Room” is an obvious highlight; serpentine bass and shimmering guitars create a suitably sorrowful-yet-graceful backdrop for lyrics like “This endless angst dissolves the will to find oneself/And the eternity as one turns into a far grey shade/And then vanishes at all.” Regardless of how sunny it might be outside, this is instantly chilling stuff — and in the finest possible way.
New Words for Old Wounds by William Ryan Fritch
William Ryan Fritch is an artist whose name I’ve heard many times but whom I’ve never actually listened to… until New Words for Old Wounds, that is. Fritch’s latest features vocal contributions from the likes of Powerdove, Ceschi, and DM Stith (who gives a particularly affecting performance on “Awake”). However, it’s largely a solo affair, with Fritch creating elaborate and incredibly dense arrangements that draw from orchestral, folk, and electronic music, and may require four or five listens to peel back all of the layers.
At times whimsical and folksy, and at other times dark and overwhelming — like Rhian Sheehan run through the wringer by Ben Frost, or Damien Jurado switching producers from Richard Swift to Tim Hecker — New Words for Old Wounds is a constant feast for the ears, but not one that is simply placed before you to consume. “Cataclysm” and “After” are good examples of this; both songs are ever-growing cacophonies that nevertheless prove to be captivating listens. Fritch et al’s fragile vocals and lyrics — e.g., “All your love and all your trust and fears/I want you all, I want you whole/I want you all” (“Entirety”) — lend warmth to the music, but by no means is this an album that one enters lightly.
新しい日の誕生 by 2814
2814 is a collaboration between Hong Kong Express and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, two of the biggest names in the amorphous “vaporwave” genre. While vaporwave can often seem like little more than album after album of ’90s R&B samples slowed waaaaay down, 2814’s music is more subtle and cinematic. It may still be incredibly sample-heavy, but the mysterious duo — anonymity is another big aspect of vaporwave — tweak their sounds enough that they become both otherworldly and familiar. There’s an exotic, sensual aspect to these blurry, murky tracks, thanks to the heavily reverbed, dub-laced atmospherics and vocal snippets heard on “恢复” and “新宿ゴールデン街.”
In a 2014 interview, Hong Kong Express expressed his love for Wong Kar-Wai’s movies, and described his music as an attempt to “project an image of love and loneliness in the big city.” Indeed, you feel almost half-awake yourself thanks to the music’s bleary-eyed sonics. Like Marconi Union, 2814 evoke the scene of a rain-slicked city at 3am, and being the only one awake while everyone’s tucked in nice and dry. It’s a lonely existence, to be sure, but there’s a city full of mystery just waiting for your exploration.
Atmospheres 第1 by Eco Virtual
If you’ve ever wondered what sort of music might’ve played in the offices of public access weather channels circa 1989, then I’ve got your answer. Eco Virtual describes their music as “atmospheric research & analysis music,” and it’s exactly the sort of music ’80s meteorologists (probably) grooved to while studying cumulonimbus clouds and calculating effective precipitation or saturation vapor pressure. It’s light, airy, and moves as smoothly as clouds across the face of a perfect blue sky.
So yes, this is pretty cheesy, muzak-y stuff (as is the case with much vaporwave). And yet, there’s something rather fetching about its complete lack of guile and its decided and staunch un-coolness: consider the loops of ’90s “greatest hits” R&B that comprise “Bermuda High” or the manner in which the sax and piano float around each other on “Gradient Winds.” It may uncool and unhip (dig that pan flute on “Valley Breeze”), and its ’90s sensibility may be cloyingly nostalgic — but I get the sense that Eco Virtual isn’t under any illusions to the contrary, which is something I can respect.