[28 February 2011]
RJ Krohn’s voice is nowhere to be found on the first album as the Insane Warrior, We Are the Doorways. This needs to be mentioned up front, because it is the presence/lack of his voice that those who hear his albums as RJD2 tend to point at as a general guide for the quality of those albums. When he’s putting his voice out there on a regular basis as he does on The Third Hand, the result is less than desirable. That said, his solo debut, Dead Ringer, on which we never hear his voice, remains his most consistently lauded work.
So it’s true—we don’t hear his voice In fact, we don’t hear anyone’s voice—We Are the Doorways is an entirely instrumental work built on the concept of being a “soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist...loosely inspired by horror and sci-fi film scores of the wonderfully fruitful period of 1976 to 1984.” What triggered such an inspiration is left to speculation, but one thing is clear: what The Insane Warrior is giving us is not to be taken as an RJD2 album. This is neither personal, nor revelatory, nor groundbreaking.
If such a description tells us anything, it’s that what we’re about to hear might just be a little silly.
It is a little silly, though not so much as we might think. The homage actually seems quite heartfelt for an artist calling himself The Insane Warrior for an album, and many of the tracks are as densely and carefully constructed as the best RJD2 tracks. The beat work that supports tracks like “The Water Wheel” and “Then You Hear Footsteps” is of the sort of meticulous construction that garnered RJD2 so many comparisons to DJ Shadow when he first arrived, and the short running times on most of the tracks keeps them from becoming tiresome or repetitive. There’s a constant sense of motion throughout We Are the Doorways, even in the more atmospheric passages, that gives the impression of never stopping to dwell on any given idea.
The best example of this is, of course, the longest track on the album, something called “Black Nectar”. At eight-and-a-half minutes long, it’d be the perfect place for Krohn to settle into tedious repetition, but “Black Nectar” is more of a suite than a song. It starts with a pleasant lite-jazz rhythm, throws an extended flute(!) solo at the listener, and then completely breaks down, giving way to burbling atmospherics and howling winds before throwing some Brian Eno-esque Close Encounters of the Third Kind synths at us. Sure, it’s all part of the same track according to the way the disc was broken up, but the latter half has no relationship whatsoever to the former, aside from the smooth transition that connects them.
Still, the constant motion may not let it get boring, but it also contributes to the biggest failing of We Are the Doorways: It’s awfully easy to forget. As Krohn intended, it plays like a soundtrack, but not the sort of soundtrack that works on its own. It’s an ephemeral thing, something that may offer a little swagger when you’re walking from the kitchen to the living room or an extra sense of dread when you’re doing your taxes, but it will only shock you when you realize that you’ve been listening to it for half an hour, it’s still on, and you can’t remember a thing about the rest of it.
Last year’s The Colossus felt like a step in the right direction for Krohn. We Are the Doorways feels like a hop straight up. It says nothing about the person behind it, but it’s kind of fun while it lasts. Now that it’s over, the question of where he’ll go next remains just as valid as it was before this album happened.