Irish musician James Kelly has undergone a bit of a musical makeover of late, and his debut solo effort under the WIFE moniker sees him emerge whole heartedly in a glossy new electronic guise.
Formerly front man of the now defunct black metal group Altar of Plagues (whose name tells you all you need to know about their sound), What’s Between is the first full unveiling of his new direction since the release of the Stoic EP back in 2012. It’s an album of skewed pop songs teetering precariously over a post dub-step abyss: mellow, down beat and most likely not one for devotees of his earlier pestilential work.
There is no room here for cataclysmic guitar riffs or shit-kicking, epileptic drum patterns as Kelly adopts a more minimalistic approach throughout. The title is supposedly a ‘reflection on what exists in the emotional and physical space between two people’, and that’s as good an explanation, as any with tracks characterized by the quiet that lies between sounds as much as the sounds themselves. Drums, keyboards, loops and strings are used sparingly, floating independently of each other in a kind of zero gravity space. With a dark ambient mood throughout the vocals are used to inject an element of soul akin to Tom Krell’s How To Dress Well. Similarly ‘Dans Ce’ sounds like Chad Valley hosting a séance while ‘Living Joy’ is part choral eulogy part industrial funk, if such a thing were possible.
It’s been said elsewhere that What’s Between is a surprisingly light hearted affair and perhaps that makes sense given the obvious differences to Kelly’s previous output. However, an album produced by The Haxan Cloak was never going to be kittens and ukuleles. ‘Salvage’ is mechanical and twisted, buzzing unnervingly from within an alien hive as if sound tracking the bleakest of science fiction while ‘Heart Is A Far Light’, which sees Kelly at his most earnest, takes place against a backdrop of portentous echoes. It’s as if beyond the music, beyond the comfort of Kelly’s voice and of What’s Between, there is a black hole sucking you in, demanding you surrender to nothingness. In the face of this annihilation Kelly does his best to proliferate his new found inner-calm, but his penchant for gothic dress-up is never totally supressed.
For all the astral-analogies and made up genres though, WIFE’s debut effort fits snuggly and without fuss in Tri-angle’s oeuvre. Placed alongside oOoOO and How To Dress Well there’s the sense that the unavoidable comparisons to Kelly’s previous sound perhaps make this record feel bolder than it actually is.