[8 September 2009]
Foreboding, murky and pensive. Visitation, the second full-length release from Los Angeles-based mood-rock outfit Division Day conjures a smoky sonic dream, with packaging, eerie tracking and a title that rather accurately constructs an unfamiliar, though not unpleasant, whole. Gone are the crisp timbres of Beartrap Island. Instead, heavy instrumental washes lap over one another and create waves of melody and noise that obscure clarity in favor of a crafty group identity. The result is an unexpected departure from the band’s bright debut and a movement towards uncharted waters of musical mysticism.
On the cover of Visitation, a blue-skinned mystery woman accompanies futuristic, geometric script carrying the album title. Within, the single fold of glossy red with black undertones of the CD booklet and disc hint at the monolithic and dark content of the music beyond. Alien imagery, complete with azure women and blood-red vistas, frame the idea of Visitation as a murky, mysterious alternative to the accessible sounds that helped break Division Day into the music scene.
Justin Meldal-Johnson, famed for his work with Beck and the Nine Inch Nails, lent his production skills to Visitation. The troupe engineered a brooding album whose tracks emphasize a cold whole instead of a collection of vivid components. Most noticeably, Rohner Segnitz and Seb Bailey’s vocals remain largely obscured throughout the album. With few exceptions, their androgynous croons are shadowy and warbled phrases. Stretching and bending over the waves of programming and guitars beneath them, the words have a subdued fervency that remains veiled in milky delays and robotic doubling.
Kevin Lenhart’s drums are curiously accentuated in Visitation. The blustery timekeeper seems over-mixed and raucous compared with his melodic bandmates, whose instrumental additions seem to suffer for the percussive prominence. Nevertheless, the sometimes organic/sometimes synthetic rhythmic collections on Visitation are intent on capturing the listener’s ear and driving the album against an overarching macabre, downbeat feel.
The most alien aspect of Visitation’s sonics are the mixed-down guitars and keys that stood out so much in the band’s debut. Programmed and patterned with expert nuance, the finer notes in the band’s repertoire shine through the murky storm on tracks like “Devil Light”, “Planchette” and “My Prisoner”. Haunting, these instruments seem subdued and restrained. For the band’s capabilities with production and aural shaping, the deliberate movement towards warped and obscured instrumentation seems a curious, albeit intriguing maneuver.
Though somewhat disappointing on a pure listening level, the album’s instrumental mixes and vocal textures sound complete within the mysterious context of the album as whole. Thematically, Visitation hits as an enigmatic, sometimes macabre world of alien thoughts and mystery. Like its namesake, a precious emerald stone known for its majestic ripples of fine tones within a larger green landscape, “Malachite” builds on repetitive, cresting guitars, celestial choruses and hypnotic phrasing. When the track breaks into the jarring bridge, the words “my skin had changed” hit in an unusual moment of clarity. Division Day casts a hazy spell over the album’s second track and prepares for an album of potent incantations.
The beautiful, wavy balled “Azalean” evokes a similar magic with quietly stated and beautifully phrased imagery. Ripe with the lyrical allure of still water and gossamer reflections on a warm night, the track casts keyboard ambiences as soft ripples beneath the echoes of flickering light heard in four-note guitar accompaniments behind Segnitz’s nostalgic moan. The somatic wash spills into “Devil Light”, where sharp pointed rhythms press over ghosting, sequenced background whispers of electronic insight.
Strung out, buzzing guitars on “Planchette” capture the album’s eeriest track, a reference to an early Ouija board that finds Division Day as a medium between ours and another world. The long sustains that illuminate the track build with “Carrier” and eventually warble into the stringy synth harp, hand claps, and droning bass on the album’s title track and the cacophonous shades of “My Prisoner”.
Visitation is an intriguing album that reveals Division Day’s aptitude for dynamic music. Murky and somewhat inaccessible, the album paints shades of the dark, forbidden and macabre in textures that contrast directly with the crisp tones of its predecessor. As a change of direction it is a successful album. However, the often-muddy production leaves much to be desired with its rough mixes and occasional lack of definition. Nevertheless, the album stands as a complex and compelling article of modern rock.