When the organ that begins Then It All Came Down first cuts through a stutter of static and becomes the kind of tone that will flood any space with luminous and stable sound, the music seems instantly embryonic. That’s not in the simple sense that this low, fluttering signal is the start of the second one-track album from the Chicago chamber doom-and-drone collective Wrekmeister Harmonies. And it’s not that this is the origin from which everything else unfolds. It’s that, almost immediately, you can sense where these 34 minutes might be headed before they’ve had the chance to grow beyond a single note. Recorded in a church and then re-recorded from playback in a lakeside lighthouse, the organ seems haunted, like a ghostlight fading in and out of the middle distance. It’s less outwardly threatening than eerie, a warning to proceed with caution. Turns out, that premonition is correct: The end of Then It All Came Down is a waking nightmare.
Then It All Came Down takes its title from a 1973 Truman Capote interview with Bobby Beausoleil, the budding entertainer-turned-murderer who the author called “the key to the mystery of the homicidal escapades of the so-called Manson family.” But J.R. Robinson, the mastermind of Wrekmeister Harmonies, didn’t only lift the name of the Capote essay. He lifted its spirit, or more exactly, the key question behind Beausoleil and the Helter Skelter mob at large: How did a bunch of drug-doing, orgy-inducing kids with visions of stardom and famous acquaintances turn so decidedly dark?
In an accompanying essay that traces the links from Aleister Crowley’s credos and teachings to hippies, Manson and the whole lot, Robinson grapples with that lingering concern and its spiritual underpinnings. “Rather than earning their spot in the sun by fighting their way through the darkness, [Manson and Beausoleil] reversed the sequence, starting with the positive and working towards the negative,” he writes. This piece, which moves in the time of one sitcom episode from that docile drone into a noise-flanked doom fisticuffs, is Robinson’s musical representation of such perversion. At the start, Then It All Came Down suggests a world of possibilities; by its end, the only available outcome seems to be some form of purgatory, a nihilistic vacuum of supposed free will.
The process, then, is obvious, even predictable: Then It All Came Down moves from rather gentle tones to complete miasmic atonality. But the path between those poles is surprising, stepwise and involved, the chief feat of Robinson as a bandleader and composer. To complete this piece, Robinson recruited 20 musicians and recorded them in sessions scattered across America and Canada. There’s the pick-up-and-check-out acoustic strummer Ryley Walker and the meticulous Codeine/Come guitarist Chris Brokaw. Infamous black metal madman Wrest contributes vocals, as do Lydia Lane Stout, Chanel Pease and Kate Spelling, an entrancing trio of sirens. There’s a string quartet and the riveting Chicago doom band Indian, assisted by collaborator and power electronics savage Mark Solotroff. Robinson folds them all into his inquires, actors and actresses yielding to the director’s vision.
However ominous it may seem, this music is, at first, august. Walker scatters florid, raga-like lines across an amoeboid dream of tinkling bells, drifting organ and harmonizing voices that softly sing “Beautiful sun,” the translation of Beausoleil’s French name. The action swells until it collapses into a din of windswept noise. Wrest growls nocturnal imprecations through the hiss. Strings and horns soon pull the action toward an existential crossroads: Which of those embryonic elements will prevail? The answer emerges through electric guitars, locked in feedback, and militant drums, locked into a lumber that shakes the frame. The finale is as punishing as the peaks of doom metal itself. The ensemble’s patience suggests the successes of the Ocean, and the vocal scowl of Indian’s Dylan O’Toole recalls Khanate’s ever-acerbic Alan Dubin. In the end, only this destruction was feasible.
To match the colossal approach of his releases, Robinson has taken care to ensure that the physical products for both of his albums mirrored the grandeur of the music. You could get lost, for instance, in the illustration of 2013’s You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me, where cliffs of ice sublimated into bulbous clouds. The same holds for Then It All Came Down, in which a split-panel piece by Simon Fowler links heaven and hell in refracted, infinite detail. You can imagine the art as the machinery for Beausoleil’s time-lapse depravity.
What’s more, the compact disc version backs Robinson’s new work with last year’s debut, previously available only on vinyl. The combined set makes for a long listen but a telling one, too: As he harnesses new tools to power these documents of personal or public descent, Robinson’s audacity and imagination are expanding. Then It All Came Down is shorter than You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me, but it feels bigger, bolder and more nuanced, so unified as to appear oblivious to the experimental/metal divide that this project’s previous work so carefully traced. It’s as though Robinson has just now begun to touch on the real possibilities of the principles at play within Wrekmeister Harmonies.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1tJkePI