Wrekmeister Harmonies: Light Falls

Wrekmeister Harmonies' impressive new record, Light Falls, pairs down the number of guests and creates a central band, a smaller group on which to build a new kind of composition.

Wrekmeister Harmonies

Light Falls

US Release: 2016-09-16
Label: Thrill Jockey
UK Release: 2016-09-16
Label Website

On Night of Your Ascension, the excellent 2015 record from Wrekmeister Harmonies, JR Robinson and Esther Shaw—the core of the group—enlisted roughly 30 musicians from all corners of the musical landscape to make an epic record. It still plays like something at times soaring and at times impossibly heavy, a record with extremes that can't be outdone.

So Robinson and Shaw don't try to top that record on their new LP, Light Falls. Instead, they tried a new approach. This record pairs the guests down and creates a central band, a smaller group on which to build a new kind of composition. Ryley Walker and Cave's Cooper Crain make guest spots, but the album centers around the main players: Robinson and Shaw, joined by Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Thierry Amar, as well as Sophie Trudeau and Timothy Herzog.

Though the number of players is paired down, there's still an impressive size to Light Falls, and the compositions retain the patience and intricacy that made Night of Your Ascension so unique. The album begins with the gauzy, almost pastoral strum of acoustic guitars and keyboards on "Light Falls I: The Mantra". A voice whispers darkly, "Stay in, go out, get sick, get well" again and again, the repetition more haunting with each pass. Robinson has suggested that the title is a reference to sunset (how light fades by degrees and then—all of a sudden— it's just gone). This first movement shows well that ever-slowly fading light, but at the edges you can feel the stillness of the dark to come, the worry or isolation it might bring.

"Light Falls II: The Light Burns Us All'' brings the band in with full force, Amar's bass and Herzog's drums bringing that darkness to life with a stomping, stalking kind of muscle. Shaw's keyboards still float on the outside of the song, but they don't stretch out so much as they fog-up each note. Robinson's guitar is distorted and low, but the notes also feel smudged somehow, both sound and the memory of sound, some mix of the moment (darkness) and whatever brought us here (the fading light). The movement is a loud but slow burn, so insistent on its steady structure and pace that you almost get lost in it; that is, until it yields to the beautiful quiet and space of "The Light Falls III: Light Sick", where Trudeau's piano chords echo outward, each one rippling over the notes that came before.

Light Falls shifts back and forth between quiet and loud, between stillness and propulsion, between nascent brightness and overpowering darkness. But these don't feel like poles opposing each other; rather, the real feat of this record is how the quiet informs the loud and vice versa. "The Gathering" builds on violin and piano, with some distant echoing guitar, but when the band bursts the song open with crashing drums and wailing guitars, it doesn't blot out those clearer sounds. Instead, the piano and strings still shine through, playing right along with the murky noise, making both the distorted and the clear similarly beautiful.

This back and forth, this bleeding of one moment into the other, also creates a sort of surprise in listening to this record. For other bands, the combination of classical elements, folk compositions, and heavy rock elements would be a ticket to blow out into impossibly expansive tracks. Not so with Light Falls. The strings and keys don't drift away into atmospherics. They roil and twist and constrict around the guitar-bass-drum center. So along with the back and forth, there's an ever-growing, incredibly patient sort of tension, a ramping up that you may not notice until Robinson begins his constrained howl on the blistering "Some Were Saved Some Were Drowned". It's a final snap, the moment at which the string has been pulled too taut, so it must break. All these dark and bright sounds conspire in that moment while Robinson yells, transforming frustration into catharsis.

The album ends quietly, with a voice calling into the void, almost whispering to a son. "Where have you gone, where have you gone?" the voice repeats, left to square with time passing, with being left alone, with regret. It's a bittersweet but hard-earned end to Light Falls. Though the album is cut into seven tracks, it is best taken as a whole composition. It's every bit as volatile as Night of Your Ascension, every bit as cohesive, but there's a new sort of energy here, a space for the listener to connect to the players, rather than bathing in endless layers of sound. The resulting album is an impressive one, dark but not oppressive, expansive despite its leanness, and an excellent new turn for Wrekmeister Harmonies.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.