Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cemetery Road/Dead Electroniks - Wilt

Cemetery Road/Dead Electroniks

Adnoiseam Records.

SCQ Rating: 58%

For those who’ve never heard of Wilt, the American duo of James Keeler and Don Hall, their specialty is a low-key mix of crawling guitar-work and looming effects that should appeal to a cross-section of dark-ambient fans. And for those interested in such a sub-genre, there has never been a better place to look into Wilt than on their latest Adnoiseam release, Cemetery Road/Dead Electroniks. After all, how better to celebrate a band’s tenth anniversary than to bundle a brand-new release (Cemetery Road) with a selected anthology of nostalgic stepping-stones, remixed by colleagues (Dead Electroniks)?

Mind you, not even the loveliest of cover-art and bang for your buck (which this collection, at two and a half hours long, clearly provides) can dissuade the irony associated with my mention of ‘celebration’, as Wilt’s honed atmospherics are too nihilistic for a party (let alone a funeral). However, fans of creaking, unsettled compositions will see Cemetery Road as a solemn celebration indeed. ‘Red Bird, Black Sky’ establishes the disc on an airy, exploratory note, allowing the occasional flourish of darkness to interrupt the flow, and as the following tracks suggest, such reverberating swells foreshadow a devious descent into gloom. The creeping ‘The Weight of Headstones’ and album-highlight ‘A Small Escape’, while transcending at a snail’s pace, seem poised to inch us further into the deep-woods imagery of Cemetery Road/Dead Electroniks’ cover-art.

And suddenly, halfway through the tedious two-note repetition of aptly titled ‘A Deaf Cry’, we’re swallowed by Wilt’s dread-inspired tones. Buried in Cemetery Road’s empty plot! Left for dead! The cavernous ‘The Realm of Shattered Prisms’ tries to haunt through jarring effects and ‘The Grim’ relies on being empty to the point of vacuous but, as these compositions become increasingly freeform, Cemetery Road loses much of its presence. Without instruments willing to revealing themselves from Wilt’s shroud of mystery, we as listeners miss signifiers; those elements that help us differentiate movements in a song and recognize whether a given track has been playing for two minutes or ten. Every good ambient record has these signifiers, otherwise it blends so seamlessly into the natural ambience of one’s room that, well, it doesn’t require being spun. Really, why would I need to play ‘Serpent Dream’ when I already have a fridge plugged in? Toward what end (thematically or narrative-wise) am I supposed to envision ‘The Realm of Shattered Prisms’ when the first half of the song is identical to my upstairs neighbour vacuuming the carpets? Questions worth asking oneself.

Beyond a few too many absent-minded meanderings, Cemetery Road rights itself with the oh-there-you-are return of spooky guitar on ‘Symptom of the End’ and the simple yet elegant finale ‘To an End’. The claustrophobic mood of the first disc runs uninterrupted into the Dead Electroniks remix disc, which, for long-time fans of Wilt or dark-ambience, is good news. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it’s too much of the same.

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