Today, hot-100 pop typically treats the nighttime as one homogenous spatiotemporal terrain. Regardless of an artist’s idiosyncrasies, this terrain usually takes one of a few shapes: a dance floor, a table dusted with narcotics, an interminable highway edged with neon. Turn on the radio, and one of these shapes will probably meet your ear. In Daft Punk’s omnipresent neo-disco bacchanalia “Get Lucky”, for instance, this span from dusk to dawn was nothing but one long, alcohol-fueled indulgence in late-summer lust; in “All Night”, the chugging gospel-pop anthem from Chance the Rapper’s excellent Coloring Book, it was even less – a protracted pull from a bottle, a receding hope that the morning won’t come. Yet on the mini-LP Night Melody, Ryan Lee West’s follow-up to 2015’s analog sound-tapestry Howl, a different terrain is mapped: here, the nighttime isn’t an excuse for brainless revelry or casual sex, it’s a heterogeneous mindscape laden with sonic texture and emotional nuance, with mysterious shadow-figures and secrets that elude your grasp.
Lifting tropes from IDM, deep house, Eno-indebted ambience, and end-of-days electro á la Clark, West, aka Rival Consoles, creates a borderless shadow-reality that is part somnambulant carnival and part cosmic void. Over the course of the record’s six tracks, he imagines the after-hours world as a space where disturbed city-dwellers sift through the darkness for something they can’t quite attain: sometimes solitude, sometimes companionship, sometimes both at once.
“I found myself, in a silent home, with the days getting dark very early. I’ve never before in my life been affected by the lack of light so much,” West said of his inspiration for these songs. Listening to the record, these words accrue new layers of meaning; Night Melody is just as much about lacking something essential – light, love, purpose, direction – as it is about reaching out and seizing what the night offers.
“Lone”, pulling the curtains open for the record’s second act, captures this nocturnal moodiness through interlocking instrumental motifs that seem to both follow shadows down alleyways and hurry forward like they’re the ones being followed. Activity abounds, lithe percussion skitters across rooftops and electro-mumblings pulse from behind locked doors, but there’s also a sinking-gut dread at the track’s core – a feeling that the stars above have been dead for centuries, that their light is a lie.
“Pattern of the North”, a bit warmer in tone and lighter in tempo, builds throughout its duration like it’s too eager for daybreak to fall asleep. It’s filled with fitful synthesizers that alternate between coldly synthetic and vibrantly organic, but West unifies the track with a prevailing hopefulness that pools in the production’s pauses and lulls. Meanwhile, “Johannesburg” – the longest cut here at 7:22 – sounds like a dream slowly materializing on the back of your eyelids and threatening to become a nightmare.
Inflected with cries of hot metal, cascades of ice-cold wind, and patters of rain-on-glass, “Night Melody” is the LP’s focal point and perhaps West’s most entrancing work here. It doesn’t build up or climax; it changes shape. West seems to create an entire sonic universe on the bare wall of a bedroom, each sound he releases – each subtle bass knock, each silver synth burst, each cough of indeterminate noise – appearing as a fleeting shadow-puppet carved from invisible hands. Between the walls of this bedroom, staying up all night – “We’re up all night ’til the sun / We’re up all night to get some”; “All night, I been drinking all night / I been drinking all night” – has nothing to do with booze, drugs, sex or partying and everything to do with what these activities try to obliterate: namely, a sense of isolation in a world that tries its best to overwhelm you.
“I’m not interested in making something sad or making something happy. I want music to be bittersweet, to be more complex, like life – containing moments of vibrant color and hope, as much as darkness and sadness,” West said. This complexity is present throughout Night Melody. It’s a record about how the night is more than just an expanse of time to sleep through or drink away. Indeed, through West’s eyes, it’s much more: a richly populated terrain where life can be discovered, avowed, and confronted, even in the darkest of corners.