His Name Is Alive - Black Wings - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

His Name Is Alive - Black Wings

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2018-04-06
His Name Is Alive - Black Wings
His Name Is Alive - Black Wings

Livonia, Michigan’s favourite son Warren Defever began putzing around in his basement making weird and wonderful sounds on his 4-track cassette recorder over 30 years ago. Ivo Watts-Russell at legendary 4AD liked what he heard and proceeded to release over a dozen albums and EPs throughout the 90s before parting ways following the contentious release of 2002’s Last Night. Defever and his revolving list of bandmates continued releasing albums on his own Silver Mountain Media imprint. In fact, Black Wings was initially released on SSM in a limited-edition CD-R, which is now highly collectible and long sold out. But for those looking to complete their HNIA discography, Happy Happy Birthday To Me has rescued the music and presents it here in a glorious 2xLP set…on traditional black or groove coloured vinyl. It also appears that HNIA’s previous album, Patterns of Light is included as a bonus? Or was this included in Patterns of Light as a bonus to that album? Very confusing.

So, niceties out of the way, what about the music? I must admit I lost track of Warren and his cohorts about 20 years ago following that ill-fated Ft. Lake release (which isn’t as bad as Watts-Russell thinks). Black Wings is billed as a return to form and while some may quibble over an apparent regression, I was perfectly content with the direction Defever was heading when I jumped ship, particularly as he was producing some of my favourite snorecore music. The trio of ‘Patterns of Light’, ‘Energy Acceleration’, and ‘You Best Pray’ open the album with Andrea Morici’s angelic vocals (always a HNIA strongpoint, despite numerous vocalists over the years) that feel like I’ve wandered into Evensong service at the local cloister. Double-tracked harmonies envelope the listener in an eerie, spiritual glow as ‘Energy Acceleration’ and ‘You Best Pray’ snuggle up for an additional tug on your earlobes – this one must be experienced with headphones.

Jean Cook interludes the services with short violin and string arrangements that are pretty, elegant, and a tad confusing. Without a scorecard or tracklisting, it’s difficult to distinguish these musical sorbets from the “proper” tracks, leaving the listener wondering which song (the previous or subsequent) they belong with. And with about a third of the 30 or so tracks clocking in under a minute (and three more barely topping 60 seconds), there is a disorienting vibe to the album that may not be intentional.

‘How Ghosts Affect Relationships’ is as ephemeral as its title suggests, with Morici’s moog and mellotron battling for airtime around Defever and fellow guitarist Dusty Jones’ fuzzed-out wackadoodle noodling. A little too experimental for me and rather meandering in too many undefined directions. Other sonic fragments like ‘Memory’, ‘California Star Guitar’, and ‘And Space Chords’ (the latter is a separate track on the original release) could have used some embellishment (or formal appendaging to surrounding tracks) to give them a sense of completion, rather than half-baked ideas that come and go faster than Munchkins in Oz.

‘Cet-Air-La’ is a beautiful French ballad (parenthetically dedicate to “Seraphine” who should be rightly proud, and I can only guess that the forty-eight second piano trompe l’oeil ‘God Only Knows’ is something Defever dragged out of his grey matter while listening to Pet Sounds? It’s part of a “trilogy tribute” that includes the slashing guitar wankoff ‘Rush’, and the 23-second “Was that another song?” ‘Les Zeppelina’. ‘Stevie, Thanks’ and ‘Hold On To Your Half’ are unlistenable manic drum thrashings that sound like they were discovered on one of Defever’s basement tapes from way back when. They should have been left there.

‘Energy Acceleration’ returns in demo form, which brings the electronics upfront and jettisons the vocals, and is best reserved for music students studying Defever’s creative process. The title ‘Demonmix’ suggests a mash up of ideas, but actually reminds me of some of Steven Reich’s minimalist sound loops, while ‘Calling All Demons’ feels like the demo for the aforementioned track. The album ends with a series of proggy electronic instrumentals that add to the dementia, and ‘Sister Golden’ sounds like a bunch of garageniks trying to come to terms with America, before abandoning it for Led Zep’s ‘Misty Mountain Hop’!

But be sure to stick around for the glistening hazy halo of the ambient 13-minute blast of krautrockin’ New Age synth, ‘For The Scientist’ that will have fans of everyone from Tangerine Dream, Tonto’s Expanding Headband, Aroliah, Larry Fast, and Kitaro to postrockers Stars of The Lid and fellow Detroiters, Windy & Carl and Füxa frothing at the mouth.

But, ultimately, there’s too much hair-brained confusion elbowing its way into some absolutely stunning vocal pyrotechnics and ambient, snorecore navel gazing to fully recommend it, but the old cliché about a great album lurking within applies…if only Defever corralled his anarchic tendencies and left the abbreviated noise clips, demo slices, and unrestrained diversions on the cutting room floor where they belong.

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