Written by: Dave Cantrell
TRANCE TO THE MOON – Lavendar Skies [Below Sea Level]
From Echo and Teardrop and other habitués of the second Liverpool explosion to Siouxsie’s kaleidoscopic forays to not a little of shoegaze to the trippier corners of ethereal wave, the line dividing the dreamy expansive milieux more commonly held to be the province of cosmic explorers from the hippie age and those of us more comfortable over here in the darker dominions with our gothic inflections and bat-cave sonar, is a rather ecstatically blurry one, the distinction between the two often – appropriately enough given our purposes here – shadowy at best. One might even contend that the likes of the Sisters, with all that fog and trenchant mysticism, were dipping more than just the toes of their black leather boots into the swirl of psychedelic waters. While none of this is exactly news to anyone paying even passing attention – to the extent there’s been scholarly work regarding post-punk et al over the past couple of decades this is not exactly untrodden ground – it’s certainly been an established article of faith for Ashkelon Sain whose journey through the more darkly bewitched territories of the diaphanous the past twenty-five or so years may well be on its way to becoming legend, a status made just that much more likely with the debut from his latest project Trance to the Moon.
That name, of course, with its bell-ringing familiarity to Sain’s long-running, on-again off-again Trance to the Sun, exudes continuum and is thus a smart move but also a subtly sly one, as this new lunar variety does, in effect, draw the artist’s signature ethereality closer to the earth, a result we feel it’s safe to attribute to the gravitational pull of Moon’s other half, Monet Alarie. Known to most prior to this partnership as the riveting singer in OVER, a forceful focal point in a band abundant in dynamic characters, his role here is both similar and not, both grounding and not.
From the layered, alluring jump on opener “Antarctic Twilight II,” Alarie rises to the challenge of applying his talents to what could fairly be termed a whole other aesthetic as if it’s no challenge at all. Iridescently present, the vocal textured to meet the cascading waves of his bandmate’s flaring atmospherics with supernal ease, the fact that a listener wholly unaware of the singer’s previous – and, we should hasten to say, ongoing – work with OVER would readily believe that Ash and Monet had been doing this together for years is all that really needs to be said. To submit that the pairing of these two talents was an inspired decision is almost too obvious to bother pointing out. But the ‘why’ of that conclusion is nonetheless worth a few words.
Sain’s Trance to the Sun project, through what seems (to him especially, we imagine) a thousand iterations stretching from LA to Portland, has never wanted for sonic intrigue since its very beginning in the early 90s. As long and varying a path as it’s been he’s remained true to the sound’s searing, otherworldly landscapes. Bringing Alarie into the equation, however, introduces a frisson that, while not heretofore missing – Ashkelon’s gift sound-wise has always been the ability to inject shiver-inducing beauty into what could, in another context, be heard as a dark or even doomy backdrop, hence the tension – is significant enough a game changer to merit the name change. This may not be an entirely new panorama but it’s hard to think how it could have possibly been more supercharged with vibrancy or emotive color.
Suitably glassine and shimmering with that airy, bass-anchored weightiness of peak 4AD, “Fire Within Glass,” as per its title (and true to much of the album) exploring matters of transformation and contrast and the richness that can be found therein, presents with an ever-looming, determined grace, Monet with timeless wisdom unleashing gem after lyrical gem (“the heat inside the heart, you are not the love you lack“), “Except in Dreams,” built upon sheet after arpeggiated sheet of icy seductive sound carries such a seductive punch the pair quite wisely chose it to work up into their first video, so signature is it to what they’re about, “Unexpected Snow II,” a love song, an incarnation, an hypnotic beckoning like a hand extended via music, hovers in an intimately holy place somewhere between a prayer and, well, a trance, while closer “Icicles & Fumaroles” (no surprise given that name) occupies that liminal space between the Cocteaus and the barely suppressed exuberance of the Pale Saints at their most intense, a space this band has carved out as theirs alone, no one else sounds like this.
As with anything Ashkelon-related, Lavendar Skies is something of a journey, one not intent on any particular discovery but rather one driven, in a beautifully obsessed way, to simply find what’s out there, following, at heart, an artist-driven itinerary of possibilities. In Monet, emotionally unafraid to go where the song takes him, anchored by a kind of mythical poet’s instincts, Sain has found a foil and fellow traveler and between them they’ve taken that dark psychedelic mesmeria that Ash has been pursuing forever to a place beyond. This is, in modern parlance, next level stuff.[find Lavendar Skies here; the album is a collation of the band’s first two EPs Fire Within Glass and Except in Dreams, the latter released the same day as the full length. click on the ‘buy compact disc’ link to obtain the physical CD; you’ll be happy you did. And, full disclosure: Lavendar Skies‘ cover art front and back includes photography by the author, work provided gratis and months prior to hearing the finished product]
FLOSSING – Queen of the Mall EP [Brace Yourself Records]
Heather Elle, it would seem, has a restless creative spirit and the spark and drive necessary to stay doggedly in its pursuit. The Brooklyn-based musician originally came to our attention playing bass in the indie-tinged post-punk band BODEGA via 2018’s winningly inventive debut album Endless Scroll but then really grabbed us by our hapless lapels when stepping into that same role for the Wants on their (really quite extraordinary) debut Containers, a record that was destined from first listen to rank near the top of your correspondents favorite spins of 2020. And now, a mere year and a half past that bombshell and here comes Elle crashing into our consciousness anew, introducing her solo project FLOSSING with the Queen of the Mall EP, released Sept 10th via Brace Yourself Records.
A sinuous, self-reflective exploration of, what else, a sensual/existential restlessness with a seething silver-grey pulse to it, “Switch,” opening, captures the eternal mercury shimmer of yearning like few others have managed this (or any) year and does so in two minutes fifty-six. Intuitively layered with slink and smarts, it’s intimate, it’s animate and, above all, it’s alive, gifted with propulsion, a twitchingly wary eye on the digital static we live in and a nuanced dexterity of purpose. It is, thus, a perfect primer for the EP proper.
Emerging from a throbbing murk – think a synth bass on heavy drugs – with an abrupt burst of drum and a slashing punctuating riff of guitar, “On Read,” its odd title made rather brilliant in the chorus-of-sorts when its heard in the context of a text message (“I’m leaving you on ‘read’“), depends on sass and a swift left punch to get its message across, to the point you can’t decide if it’s more devastating or more satisfying so conclude it’s more both.
What makes these tracks work in ways similar attempts sometimes fall short is the manner in which Elle delivers her vocals, the lyrics, while maintaining their textual punch, stretched or compacted and often multi-tracked to meet the composition’s needs. It’s the ‘voice as instrument’ trope on full, commanding display and it gives each song what feels like an extra dimension, a perfect example being the driven experimental pop of “Add to Cart.” Relentless, nimble as fuck, it flows out of its avant-ish intro – the first two words of the title made into an attention-getting percussive tic – into a club-worthy treatise on casually paranoid Amazon consumerism powered by a trancey, under-your-skin beat just this side of glitch, one of its core lines (“online life is full of surprises“), dropped with a droll panache, a phrase that may well hang in your head for a good while.
While we’ll leave the details of the (well-named) “Psychosis” and the positively manic, goddamned masterful “TRAP” to your own discovery, trusting that what’s been editorially offered is on its own sufficient enough to tweak your most fervid curiosity, we will add, just in case the preceding has somehow failed to penetrate that pervasive veil of cynical resistance to which each of us sometimes clings, that we find it theoretically impossible that any release of any length released in this complicated, emotionally draining year of 2021 will not only better reflect the intense contours of our collective life right now but will by any metric be a better record. ‘Stunning’ barely covers it. [pick up Queen of the Mall in digital form or as a very limited cassette with extra content here]
VOIDANT – Voidant (self-released)
Transformations can be extreme, they can be subtle, they can be startling or oddly expected, forced or inevitable, temporary or forever. Past their root causes and subsequent effects, however, nearly every transformation willingly pursued has one thing in common: it is necessary. Without it stasis will almost certainly creep up silently from behind and cast its shroud upon you without warning, stopping you where you stand, rendering everything from what’s inside your heart to as far as your hopes can see to seem half-lit. As true as in art as it is in personal relationships, the desire to break free of too easily clung-to but nonetheless suffocating arrangements would appear to be at least one of the drives animating the two artists behind new project Voidant.
David ‘Wolfie’ Wolfenden and Caroline Blind both came into their partnership with deep pockets of experience, the former best known as the guitarist in 80s post-punk powerhouse Red Lorry Yellow Lorry (while also having figured in personal faves the Expelaires) while the latter spent a dozen years as singer/composer in New Jersey’s Sunshine Blind before setting off on a solo journey with not infrequent collabs with the Wake, the Mission and others. As CVs go they’re impressive but are also by their nature nothing more than flat statements of fact with nothing of the many shades of challenge hidden behind their Discogs bios, the heart-racing heartbreaking aspects of pursuing headlong the lives of artists while simultaneously being, y’know, a ‘regular’ person seeking and finding and losing relationships and doing battle with doubt and pain and all those other lovely tripwires set by fate and accident along the human arc. It’s no real surprise, then, especially considering the somewhat uncompromising nature of the work from each of them leading up to this venture, that the first full-length to emerge from Voidant, self-titled and released Sept. 7th, would veer off what would by most observers be considered their prescribed path and toward something not just markedly different but more intense, more intensely reflective, more experimental. Crossing new thresholds in this life nearly always call for a new, potentially richer language.
That richness, then, that veer, have in turn been shaped by the confluence of these two actors’ character and aesthetic both individually and as a ‘band.’ The result, in ways oftentimes sumptuous and at others jarring, not only coheres as a whole but thrills in the process, meaning for us as listeners that the act of ‘witnessing with one’s ears’ is in this case an especially satisfying one.
“Heart/Feather,” laying out this album’s premise in a most promising manner with transfixing downtempo nous and some standout lyrics (“God be with you/because I won’t” the most notable maybe but “like a fallout shelter on a winter’s evening” ain’t too shabby and hearing Caroline sing “I must be blind” brings the sly smile), bears a wry elusive Tricky vibe that suggests what Maxinquaye might’ve sounded like had it been a Cocteau Twins album. First single “La Loba”, aside from its title’s wink to one of the two principals here, seems in its calm eerie way to trace a line from the deeps of a north European forest to a north African souk at dusk as the heat and dust settle, “Ghosted” unsettles and soothes in equal measure, the appearance of rippling piano somehow enhancing both those reactions while “Summer ’78” sounds like a lullaby lost in the beautifully deteriorating airwaves rolling out into space somewhere beyond the horizon, arresting, irresistible, a little disturbing.
Deftly impressionistic like that throughout, layers of nuance prevail even as the pace ramps up as on their breakneck reimagining of Love’s “7 and 7 Is,” a romping success of a cover not to be missed. Captivating and focused, Voidant is everywhere a masterpiece painted just below the surface, revealing its mystifying self on repeated listenings like a palimpsest of living emotion, existential, visceral, transformative. [listen, buy, change your life here] [feature photo: Dave Cantrell]