Review Summary: Safe inside
It’s taken me a few years to appreciate Black Wing
on its own merits. In hindsight, I - and maybe others - probably discounted the project as being a sort of electronic photo-negative to Giles Corey
. It has eventually revealed itself as an artistic necessity, with Dan Barrett using it as a vessel for thoughts that wouldn’t really work on Have a Nice Life
or GC. In various interviews - formal or informal - we get the feeling that Barrett writes his best material when he is at his personal worst, and this might be true with Black Wing also. Yet, there is a sense of maturity and rumination that, while less wrenching and self-flagellating as other material, has a more level-minded hopelessness that counters itself with optimistic pangs. I’ve never considered Barrett’s depressive air to be tongue-in-cheek, and I still don’t; but, even without any insight into his real-life process, No Moon
seems like the natural culmination of someone who wrestles with destructive tendencies for years, progresses, relapses, overcomes, all with a self-awareness of the toll it takes on one’s ability to love others. Even if No Moon
runs a mid-life existential gamut, distinct themes do arise from the fissure.
bears a grounded sense of self-deprecation that forgoes melodrama (mostly), and instead bears the sort of depressive stain that doesn’t wash out due to years of pervasive contemplation - like a smoker’s car upholstery. Album highlight “Is This Real Life, Jesus Christ” sounds like shamefulness that percolates gradually, as a result of years of negative affirmations. Lyrically, it’s one of the album’s most blunt. Lines like “am I really so stupid to think you care?
” sound stripped of passion, to the point of being a routine fallback (it’s a plus). Musically, we see more traces of 80s synth-pop worship, which was teased on Sea of Worry
but not elaborated upon. Part of what has always helped Barrett’s success as a composer was taking an appreciation for the likes of Depeche Mode
, Gary Numan
, Joy Division
, and re-contextualizing similar themes to sound relevant and powerful in a modern blend. Whereas with Have a Nice Life, where there was also the presence of post-rock, industrial, shoegaze, doom, et cetera, No Moon
is in a more focused niche, with Barrett’s other influences relegated more to the various undertones throughout songs.
Barrett makes unconventional choices that help No Moon
seem like an obsessive pet project, and less the sort of assured deliverance of a more seasoned electronic composer. There are occasional swing-and-misses, but endearingly so, as they tend to be sensory shocks (example: the first blaring moments of “Vulnerable”, which almost made me gasp, if I were ever one to gasp at anything). This album still sounds under-produced in a good way, with plenty of grit and abrasive textures, but sometimes certain percussive sounds would sound more convincing on his prior Black Wing album, and less so on this, where they often clash with the sonic environment. Another offender is the vocal memo on “Choir of Assholes”, which is contextually easy to defend since it suits the coming-to-terms slant of the song. But, it repeats the same faux-pas of Unnatural World
’s “Cropsey” and Sea of Worry
’s “Destinos” (yeah, also a prior demo), wherein the vocal excerpts have the unintended effect of belabouring the song, and become skippable after initial appreciation. A bit of a shame, since “Choir of Assholes” begins refreshingly on-the-nose, with a unique paternal sentiment that could have been fleshed out organically and even painstakingly - which thankfully does happen with closing track “Twinkling”.
I predict “Sleep Apneac” to become many listener’s eventual favourite. The startlingly humorous opening moments borrow from Handel’s Semele
(“O Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?”), but the motif lingers in a poignant way. Vocals are like a nuclear shadow of those featured in “Always a Last Time”. While No Moon
has moments that stand strong individually, one could be misled into thinking it lacks overall conceptual focus. There are years between the births of some of the tracks; according to Dan, at least one of the songs was meant to be a HANL track originally, and others are the product of recurrently sifting though old files and ideas. Rewardingly, though, apparent themes do surface. Notably: a weariness emerging from a perpetual desperation-resolution-disappointment cycle. Purely taking liberties with what the music seems to imply, inadvertently or otherwise, there’s a strong sense of being on the cusp of something you need, to the point of fixation, getting it, but then distilling the after-effect with variations of doubt, imposter syndrome, destructive self-scrutiny, and so on. Though this sort of emotional unravelling isn’t easily romanticized, and instead borders on the frankly pathetic, it is evocative in certain ways that Barrett has never quite achieved before (despite many glimpses, and themes tangential to them). It’s a long, eventual disrepair that you know you can see coming from a mile away, but will never be bothered to fix. It’s the hum of gradual fracturing.