If the current presidential election has proved anything, it’s that people can be dragged to the very worst in order to see to it that a person they’ll never meet and very likely doesn’t have their best interests at heart gets what he wants. Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien was quoted recently, lambasting her former employer for allowing what Donald Trump has injected into the public consciousness to become the norm. Racism doesn’t make people shudder. It’s everyday life.
Just by way of monitoring social media, it’s clear this campaign has normalized hatred and intolerance. People defend violence, racism, sexism, and evil just because it’s slowly dripped into our society. In fact, it might be unfair just to blame it on the Donald, as the past eight years have normalized stereotypes and hatred toward other people. Compare that to what Primo Levi wrote about in If This Is a Man, his memoir after spending time in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, where he observed evil becoming a regular way of life simply by the slow exposure to it over a long period of time. That work inspired the new album “Light Falls” by Wrekmeister Harmonies, and surely not by mistake, it’s the most emotionally caustic and gripping album in the group’s already stellar collection.
Core members JR Robinson (vocals, guitars) and Esther Shaw (keyboard, piano, violin, vocals) embraced the concept of changes trickling in over a long period of time for this record, as the tumult and pressure contained within is palpable. By their side are member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Cave, and Bitchin Bajas, who make ample contributions to the soundscape. Along with the subject matters, Robinson also pushed to sonically recreate that concept with these seven songs, something he saw as akin to the day gradually turning over to night. The more heinous aspects, the ones that remind me of the Trump campaign (and that’s my take and not necessarily something the musicians broached), are there and poke back at you. As the music turns, as the words dryly fall from Robinson’s mouth, the essence of change that becomes DNA nearly causes panic, as you know it might be too late to dig under that layer of skin and extract the bug.
The “Life Falls” triptych opens the record, with “I – The Mantra” starting, fading in out of a haze into acoustic guitars and Robinson croaking, “Stay in, go out, get sick, get well, light falls.” The song goes into a trippy, psychedelic bend, with strings swelling and the cut bleeding into “II – The Light Burns Us All” that has noises scraping and swelling. The volume kicks up, and the pace sludges along, with doom hell arriving, and the track taking on a sweeping, apocalyptic essence, rumbling and troubling before dissolving into noise. “III – Light Sick” finishes the opening trio with quiet, dreamy passages, with the music taking on a lightly jazzy and atmospheric tone. The song floats along, teasing serenity, before the volume erupts, corrupting the skies, and the pace slides into grime and fog, with the agitation wailing out and driving home the dagger.
“The Gathering” has the music quivering, piano leaking, and the feeling like you’re in the middle of a desert, completely isolated. A frost suddenly arrives, but it’s temporary as the song ignites, the power pounds away, and the chaos builds before the song sizzles away. “Where Have You Been My Lovely Son?” also goes right for the heart, with lonely strings, raspy speak-singing, and the music hovering overhead. “All I want to do is hold your face in my hands again,” Robinson levels, as the song stretches and quakes the insides, leaving you gasping for breath as it flows into “Some Were Saved Some Drowned” that opens in distorted chaos. Strings flutter as shrieked yelps leave welts, with Robinson wailing, “Did you feel your life slipping away?” before hitting back with repeated calls of, “There is no god,” as every element rises up, spills over, and heads relentlessly down the hill. “My Lovely Son Reprise” ends the record as a slight callback, with strings and Robinson’s simple, lonely voice wondering, “Where have you been?”
Whether we’re talking atrocities that transformed a nation, current state of affairs and the resulting psyche, or less damaging situations, changes that take place over long periods of time often completely alter us, and many times not for the better. “Light Falls” is a sobering, bleeding example of that, and it’s Wrekmeister Harmonies at their most exposed. The music should be enough to impact your frame of mind, and the music is the fire that burns these changes into your skin.
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