Review Summary: But here we are
Speculation can often be unhelpful within the realm of mental illness, and in particular when regarding art: after all, depression is, for most, quite personal; and art as a means of expressing said emotion is as honest an admission as most audiences deserve. Yet, whilst Adam McIlwee’s departure from emo band Tigers Jaw in 2013 (to which he was a founding member) lead to the emergence of a more trap-inspired project in Wicca Phase Springs Eternal under the Gothboiclique (GBC), still his abandonment – oft-framed betrayal – of his other, more well-established band was subject to the sort of unhelpful conjecture that can devitalise an artist’s growth. Entertaining these notions, one could arrive at a number of conclusions prior to a description of Wicca Phase’s sound: Adam is a heroin addict, a man who’s succumbed to the mindless, depressive ramblings of a sad drug addict; or, more damaging to the artist, that his work with Wicca Phase Springs Eternal was, in some sense, ironic
, awful in an attempt to be subversive, objectionable in the name of contrarianism. Of course, neither of these accusations bears much weight. Even so, entertaining these notions, of what pertinence do the two now hold?
Elitism aside, and forgoing speculation, Adam’s work with Wicca Phase Springs Eternal is, on all accounts, just as masterful in its atmosphere as Tigers Jaw was in its prime. Because McIlwee’s attempted departmentalisation of emotion into distinct environments of their own has been apparent since the band’s latest affair with the former frontman. Charmer was, as his work since has been, masterful in its atmosphere, to the extent that one might have reasonably been excused for having assumed an unintended narrative onto an album in which there didn’t seem to be one. Likewise, Secret Boy invites
the listener into a despondent yet colourful world of its own creation: the secret life of the secret boy.
Since their inception, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal have occupied an uncertain space between the trap and hip hop production that inspires them, and the project’s peppier, emo-routed melodic sensibilities. Equal parts familiar and charming to some, Adam’s characteristic drawl – sometimes off-beat, often with an affecting deepness – whilst vital to the success of the album, often takes a backseat to Secret Boy
’s effortless contrast between its lazy crooning, and its dark, minimal trap beats. With a plethora of different producers, some of which not unfamiliar to GBC and Adam, there is a consistent and effective effort made towards a general feeling of bleak hopelessness. Opener ‘It Takes’ loops flaccid acoustic strums atop an amalgamation of subtle crunches, hand drums, and synthetic high hat rattles, the combination of which results in what is the aural manifestation of a despondent head bob, limbs stiff and mouth agape.
Whilst Secret Boy
never wavers in its creators’ earnest introspection, throughout its short runtime, this successful effort to sustain the album’s vague atmosphere sometimes manifest in what is uncertain meandering. ‘I’m Not Gonna Do It,’ an otherwise solid song, with its tight vocal performance and dark percussion, uses a piano sample that creates a backbone for the rest of the track – a piano sample that is as aimless as it is uninteresting in its jarring gloominess. For a melancholic musical phrase to stick out so incongruously on what is already such a desolate album is surprising, particularly in the case that similarly odd, organic instrumentation works so well on other tracks such as ‘I Lose Everything’, which samples an acoustic rendition of blink-182’s ‘Stockholm Syndrome Interlude’: the sample is, against all odds, a fitting backdrop for the song’s more synthetic moments. Despite unfitting moments like in the aforementioned ‘I’m Not Gonna Do It,’ the album’s instrumental and atmospheric consistency play just as much into the album’s bland homogeneity as does its mastery. ‘Secret Boy’ more than makes up for these temporary lapses in vitality, adopting an intoxicating chiming pattern that bubbles beneath the song’s jangles and tight percussion. Adam’s layered emotional yearning and lethargic ramblings are juxtaposed perfectly with the featherweight instrumental of the title track.
Although Wicca Phase’s music is somewhat contradictorily characterised by lyrical themes of dissociation and escapism, it is, quite obviously, counterbalanced by the way in which Secret Boy
– and quite a lot of GBC’s work – reaches out to listeners of a like mind. I feel apprehensive towards analysis of said lyrical themes because of this. Despite the sense of an alluring mystique, Adam McIlwee is as transparent an artist as most. In the vein of other musicians like Kanye West, of whom Adam makes reference to on ‘Like I’m Tom May,’ the music is made to be overtly personal, self-centred even, a character portrait of sorts. Speculation and contextual evidence aside, Secret Boy
, as a representation of Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, is compelling. Dissociation and escapism are obstructed rather intrusively, healthily even, by a need to express. It’s earnest and proud; charming.