by trevor elkin
“How does the never to be, differ from what never was?”
‘The Road’, Cormac McCarthy
Opening with a quote from one the most powerful, yet utterly devastating books ever written should be clue enough to where this review is heading. While Dead Light’s exquisite exploration of confusion and ambivalence was triggered by something entirely different to the apocalyptic chill of The Road, their debut album, streaming exclusively here ahead of its release, summons some eerie emotional parallels.
The first of these is a feeling of limbo. If music is a constant, a language that needs no tenses, then “Dead Light” speaks to the possibility of complete and eternal silence – challenging assumptions that everything will be fine. Anna Rose Carter and Ed Hamilton recorded the album after moving from London to a quiet, remote space in the countryside. This transition significantly impacted them both, shifting and channeling their creative energies through a restless lens of breaking with the past, keeping the promise of new beginnings blurry and just beyond reach. ‘Slow Slowly’ epitomises the duality of change, as both something to hope for and a threat. The juxtaposition is also felt in the album’s more experimental side, which instils deep melancholy and apprehension, while the traditional, classical and electro-acoustic influences, as on ‘In Red and Red’ and ‘The Ballad Of A Small Player’ provide lightness and air, even in sadness.
There’s a hidden complexity to these pieces, synonymous with both ingenious invention and accidental discovery. Music this emotive is, perhaps, rarely a result of scientific experimentation, but this is exactly where Dead Light triumphs. Just as the simplicity of the dialogue between The Man and The Boy carries the weight of unspeakable truth running throughout ‘The Road’, the motifs and melodies which stretch across this album are beautifully direct, connecting us to them and the album’s more abstract backdrops in an instant. Character runs deep, with the treated piano, reel to reels, tape delays, old Russian microphones and 1950s tube pre-amps all resonating their unique histories, becoming an orchestra of sorts. Alongside these machines, Carter and Hamilton tinkered with contact microphones and hydrophones. These under water listening devices were frozen in ice-trays and allowed to gradually thaw, collecting the sounds they made and heard. ‘Sleeper’ uses layers of looped, treated voice to create a haunting entity, while ‘Broods and Waits’ conjures a ship at sea, sailing through ice floes and mists, all through the experimental timbres of stringed instruments and drone backdrops.
The album cover art foretells a looming disaster and we are left feeling uneasy and distracted , too far away to help but near enough to care. The truth is we are fragmented and too far removed from reality to help ourselves. Yet the feeling of hope never seems to be far away. In the end, Dead Light transforms the cognitive dissonance of being displaced into an immersive musical journey, without end or beginning.
“Dead Light” will be released on 14th October, via Village Green
photo by alex kozobolis