Review Summary: An essential listen (see fine print, restrictions apply) Perfect Light
comes to the listener fully formed, sounding even upon first listen like an iconic 90’s slowcore classic. How’d we get here, though? A little context adds meaning to this album, with the new music marking a (very impressive) endpoint to a process well over a decade in the making. In short, 40 Watt Sun’s mastermind Patrick Walker first gained a reputation as the frontman for revered British doom metallers Warning. With the demise of that group, 40 Watt Sun was born and has (now) released a total of three widely-spaced out albums. Debut The Inside Room
, released in 2011, could easily be described as doom, although leavened with slowcore/post-rock influences. Its follow-up, 2016’s Wider Than The Sky
was more-or-less the reverse, with slowcore and post-rock now clustered with residual traces of doom metal. Now, with the long-awaited trifecta completed, the doom elements are fully gone, with Perfect Light
marking the triumph of Walker’s clearly-evident infatuation with 90’s slowcore, in both sound and spirit. And it’s really f*cking good.
This album’s songs can be easily boxed into the slowcore genre, with a significant side of folk and maybe a touch of post-rock. As such, these tunes are all slow (consider the odds…), subtly beautiful, and crushingly melancholy. However, the essence of Perfect Light
does sidestep the most brutally depressing slowcore bent, instead opting towards the “wallowing but not completely without hope” camp. The folky aspects here do wonders in adding glimmers of warmth and life to what could otherwise be a very bleak sonic canvas. Even so, though, this is a record which will not be for everyone, and 40 Watt Sun seem to go out of their way to warn listeners of this. Album opener “Reveal” is arguably the most sparse and skeletal of all the release’s lengthy tunes, quickly serving notice to repel skeptics of the extremities of the record’s style. Later songs open up a little more with beautiful arrangements, even if the necessities of sluggish speeds and restrained demeanor are rarely (if ever) compromised. Every track is wonderful in its own stately way, although some like “Behind My Eyes” (if there’s a better song released by the end of 2022, we’re in for a good year) and the mellow “The Spaces In Between” do emerge as highlights. “Until” also stands out with its stronger rock feel. Through it all, Walker’s vocals are evocative, ranging from folk-ish to grungy, and always providing a potent sense of emotion to the music. The instrumentation is unerringly rich even if mostly reserved, and provides some stunning moments, like the interplay of meandering piano and guitar in “Behind My Eyes” and the shimmering outro to “Colours”.
Stretching to well over an hour in duration, without a lot of obvious hooks, let alone variation, for impatient listeners to grasp onto, it should be reiterated that Perfect Light
isn’t for the faint of heart. Instead, this is a mood listen for those ready and willing to be engulfed in a sensation of beautiful melancholy (the album cover does this justice, with its portrayal of a hazy expanse of sand and sea). For its target audience, Perfect Light
stands proudly as a (very) early 2022 album of the year contender. Subdued and somber, but also inviting in its way, this is a highly-accomplished work which proves there’s still new ground to till in a musical style which is typically surmised to have seen better days.