Review Summary: The iridescence, and transience, of a pair of butterfly wings
I’m not a very spiritual person, but I’m convinced that White Moth Black Butterfly offer mystical revelations within the haunting caverns of One Thousand Wings
. The project, spearheaded by Dan Tompkins of Tesseract and Skyharbor fame, is the most experimental endeavour that the man has embarked on. It’s experimental in the sense that, stylistically, it is far removed from his usual output; it’s also experimental because it is straight-up unusual. If anything, One Thousand Wings
is an otherworldly route through which Dan can manipulate mysterious and exotic forces. A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but its songs really do feel like conduits designed to channel emotion in a specific, controlled manner.
That leads us to the beginning of One Thousand Wings
. The austere, monastic chants and harmonies of “Reluctance” instantly conjures the imagery of a temple situated in stormy lands. “Equinox” effectively builds up tension with its restless synthesizers, and it offers the first clear signs of inner strife that set up the atmosphere for much of the tracks. “Omen” feels especially sinister, with its punctuated chords and menacing whispers. However, One Thousand Wings
is also a dignified entity: it wishes to tell a tale of discontent and melancholy, but it holds its head high. The pacing is deliberate, the layering is coherent, it does not shout aimlessly; dynamics, so often overlooked as a crucial element, have their rightful place on an album that actually knows the difference between soft and loud. “The World Won’t Sleep” is a cinematic lullaby that showcases the first appearance of female guest vocals, which are used throughout One Thousand Wings
to add more contrast and texture. “Tired Eyes” actually relies entirely on the contribution of Jordan Bethany and her breathy soprano; it establishes the existence of One Thousand Wings
’ dreamiest side. Completing the background is an array of immersive electronic effects, a tasteful reminder of White Moth Black Butterfly’s trip-hop influences. And, of course, one cannot forget the sweeping strings that are used for dramatic effect.
I find “Rose” to be rather curious. Its prevalence of pentatonic runs is undoubtedly, well, “Oriental”. A soulful piano-based piece with mournful crooning, one of its objectives seems to be establishing a faraway destination of travel. I might even be tempted to connect it with the vaguely Buddhist feel of “Reluctance” and “Certainty” - “Certainty” being the more eerie, developed sibling of “Reluctance”. Furthermore, the fact that “Rose” is followed by the folky, pastoral “Midnight Rivers” can only add to my travel brochure hypothesis. “Midnight Rivers”, despite its generally pleasant nature, does lack in overall action and suffers slightly as a result. At any rate, One Thousand Wings
is still capable of running a gamut of styles without losing sight of its identity as a work of great introspection.
“Faith”, the penultimate track, is the peaceful resolution before the actual finale. The darkness that had seeped in through “Certainty” and “Omen” is replaced with the calm and light of “Faith”. Why have the stepping stone of the mellow “Faith”, you might ask? The answer lies in the bombastic 90’s-Britpop-esque song that is “Paradise”. I can’t help but think of The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” as I hear the string arrangement of “Paradise”, which would honestly seem jarring had it immediately followed the more sombre tracks of One Thousand Wings
. “Paradise” is a triumphant-sounding conclusion that does away with any sentiments of doubt or uncertainty cast beforehand. In fact it transforms the optics of One Thousand Wings
, giving it an optimistic weight that hadn’t appeared before the arrival of “Paradise”. The unexpected way in which One Thousand Wings
ends elevates it to a level of ingenuity that would otherwise have been out of reach.
One Thousand Wings
knows the importance of what isn’t there. It prefers the skies over the earth, hollowed-out caves over man-made habitats. It is in tune with the immaterial world, the elusive flow of consciousness and emotion. And, more importantly, Dan can give himself yet another pat on the back for an excellent musical creation.