Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Album Review: 65daysofstatic - Wild Light

Album Rating: A
When we last heard from 65daysofstatic, the Sheffield post-rock powerhouse was straight out of two back-to-back projects that couldn’t have been more different. The first, We Were Exploding Anyway, took the band in a new direction by integrating EDM into its end-of-the-world fireworks festivities. The other, Silent Running, tapped into a cinematic vein, both a return to 65’s roots and an indication of the grander ambitions the band had sat on for some time. Wild Light, the first 65 release in two years, will naturally inspire plenty of comparisons to both. Like We Were Exploding Anyway, it piles on the electronic atmospherics heavier than ever; like Silent Running, it’s an exercise in balancing futuristic grit with classical gracefulness. The ancestor it truly reminds me of, however, is the band’s sophomore album One Time For All Time. Maybe it’s in how this is one cohesive story being told, a dormant impulse reawakened here as the band dissects and rebuilds itself. Or maybe it’s just my affinity for that album speaking.

Nostalgia aside, there’s a compelling tale here for anybody willing to listen with open ears. 65daysofstatic has always been a vaguely political band, of course. Even its very name is derived from one of numerous urban myths, all of which tap into Orwellian fears and the human psyche's dark side. Not that the band's particularly explicit about these themes, though: in the words of band member Paul Wolinski, “Everything’s political, isn’t it? The world is happening and everyone is making it happen, all of us right here on the front line, making it up as we go along.” There’s sincerity in that humble idea, sincerity evident through Wild Light. From the buzzy tension of “Prisms” to the radiant joy of “Taipei,” the album plays like a sprawling epic, bleeding with emotion, message be damned.

In any case, the only way to take this is chapter by chapter. The disembodied voice that opens “Heat Death Infinity Splitter” hearkens back to the iconic introduction of The Fall of Math, but while that intro set a clear dystopian tone, this one’s a bit more open-ended: “Nobody knows what is happening,” it repeats, before leaving us by warning, “There is a lot of danger out there. Okay?” From there, it’s a dirge moaned by somber synthesizers pitted against staggered beats that jerk the track forward. It’s a low-octane opener, but the band finds room for one of its trademark explosions near the end, just to show it can still pull that trick off. Even in chaos, the band wields surprising and newfound weight, evidence of developed songwriting chops—there is majesty in this madness, a peace with self the band has only found with time.

“Prisms” demonstrates similar wisdom. Built on harsh synths and cagey breakbeats, it forgoes the expected climax for a longer, more interesting build. The balance lost during the band’s first forays into electronica on We Were Exploding Anyway is restored here, with ambient piano and bustling dance in harmony. “The Undertow” follows suit, finishing the first act with one of the band’s most quietly dynamic songs to date. The haunting piano melodies sound as if they’re encased in ice, and even the rising wave of toms and guitar squalls near track’s end is buried under foggy production. There are no sticks of TNT to be found in this tundra; no ghosts from 65daysofstatic past to drive through to get here; no retreat, retreat. The looming apocalyptic doom that has characterized the band since its beginning is still there, but here it’s tempered with a newfound serenity, a blanket of snow covering Pompeii’s remains. This is not the sensationalist prophecy of the Mayans or the proverbial pit of fire talked about in everybody’s favorite holy book. No, this is about life after the end, and it’s a chilling sight.

If the album’s first act establishes its setting, its second jumps right into the action. Long-time fans itching for a return to explosives will be mighty pleased with “Blackspots,” which takes the meticulously scattershot structure of “Crash Tactics” and stretches it into an eight-minute chase scene fraught with tension. A simple syncopated drum loop propels the track forward, while a dialogue develops between a distorted synthesizer and mournful cries of guitars. Without Rob Jones’ drums to carry it forward, this would be a funeral hymn, but there they are, stirring up something stronger. And then four minutes in, the band stops climbing, catches its breath at the peak—and then it comes tumbling downhill in an avalanche of rollicking drums and spiky guitar lines, daring you to catch up. It rivals anything off of the band’s earlier work for sheer thrills, upping the tension just when it’s needed.

“Sleepwalk City” keeps the momentum going with a sturdy tribal beat and more conventional post-rock fixtures, and though it overstays its welcome a bit, it’s a perfectly acceptable transition into the album’s crowning jewel: “Taipei,” one of the finest 65daysofstatic cuts to date. The band’s experimentation with softer textures and dreamier instrumentation (especially the piano) on 2010’s Heavy Sky EP pays rich dividends on this stunning slice of light. The piano echoes a gorgeous, sun-stained melody as we enter port while the drums bob in 5/4 time, like ships gazing up on the titular city: distant, illuminated in fluorescent yellows. There is gravity in the song’s measured rhythms, but there is also a new hope just within its view, a spark the band stokes into a ferocious flame.

On the album's final two tracks, ruin and redemption tangle in an apocalyptic finish. “Unmake The Wild Light” is the showdown. While the first two minutes cut between a gloomy post-rock progression and a dense synth line, the meat of the track is its slow climb towards collapse. So slow, in fact, that if you asked me to pinpoint the exact shifts I wouldn’t be able to. Yet the dread only mounts and mounts: everything is crumbling in a hail of bombs, and we can only watch the carnage. Is that it? Hardly. At album's end, “Safe Passage” ushers in a new age for 65daysofstatic. It opens on ashes and dying embers, scattered bits of piano peeking out here and there. As it dies out, there’s a moment of brief silence before a synth so powerful it can only have come from heaven blasts through the speakers, vaporizing all rubble in sight with a brilliant burst of light. Call it “Radio Protector” for the next generation, a signal sent from above, transmission number zero: we are still alive and we can build something better than what used to be.

This is the ending 65daysofstatic somehow always makes its way back to, the one that keeps the engine fired up after five LPs, countless EPs, and over a decade as a band--this inextinguishable flame of theirs that says the world’s falling apart and we may as well try to put the pieces back together. This is our only hope in trying times, to document the fall and imagine the ways we could stop it. This is the sound of pain and hunger, of reinvention, of revolution. With Wild Light, the band has given the uprising its soundtrack.

Artist Website

Track Listing
1. Heat Death Infinity Splitter
2. Prisms
3. The Undertow
4. Blackspots
5. Sleepwalk City
6. Taipei
7. Unmake The Wild Light
8. Safe Passage

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