(Jehu & Chinaman, 2012)
I probably wouldn’t have expected Lifer/Exister to emanate from anywhere near the Women in Tragedy camp, but that just goes to show you how terrible I am at predicting anything. Want some advice on Vegas odds? I’m not the guy to ask. You’ll be out a million bucks before you can say “Jehu & Chinaman,” and it doesn’t take all that long to say “Jehu & Chinaman.” Women in Tragedy (great name, by the way) was a group of Toronto rabblerousers teetering on the hardcore/noise rock tightrope and periodically plummeting into one camp or the other. The vocals were screamy, the guitars ragged, and head Woman … Tragedy-ian … uh, bandleader Bob McCully shouldn’t necessarily, given his track record, have gone in the direction that he did. But here we are, and McCully’s new project Wizard Of leaves Women in Tragedy far behind for more lush, gentle, and sublime electronic tunes, albeit flecked with enough angsty beats and passages to satisfy the curious aggro who happens to peer over the fence.
That’s right – Lifer/Exister, McCully’s initial cassette release as Wizard Of, isn’t some sort of ambient mishmosh that’s easy to get lost in. It’s not a tranquil, streamside meditation or planetarium astral trip. It’s a futuristic narrative beatscape, a sometimes dank, sometimes glimmering metropolitan night vision stretched over two sides of a tape, “LIFER I” through “LIFER V” on side A, with “EXISTER I” through “EXISTER V” on the flip. I’m listening to the MP3s of the record, and without looking at my screen, I can’t even tell where tracks end, they so seamlessly bleed into each other. And the only way I would know where the LIFERs end and the EXISTERs begin is if I had to flip the cassette halfway through. I don’t have to – I get the joy of the composition extended to its entirety without breaks. Works quite well, actually, no matter how you happen to feel about the digital music file.
McCully’s previous work as Wizard Of, a collection of download-only EPs, doesn’t match the highs of Lifer/Exister, as the dubstep and footwork of his other releases is combined with elements more common to shoegaze, trip hop, and even electronic modes of post rock (think Jatun or God Is an Astronaut), styles that suits him. “LIFER I” retains the underground griminess that you’d associate with dubstep, but as the narrative plays, more light peeks in through the cracks in McCully’s late-night urban fetishism. “LIFER II,’ in fact, introduces Eastern chanting vocal samples, and major chord progressions. What better way to brighten up a room than with a major chord progression resolving itself over and over? Perhaps more noise rockers should turn to one-man electronic shoegaze projects as they become dissatisfied and disenchanted with the ugliness of the scenes with which they associate – if we get more artists deciding to “pretty up” their oeuvre like Wizard Of, we as a human race might enter a whole new era of enlightenment. OK, probably not, but “LIFER V” is going to be the soundtrack to that event.
While the LIFER side mines shoegaze for a textural nuance, the EXISTER side completely wallows in it, synths buzzing, tones reflecting and extending, and moods crumbling – it’s a bit more sinister, darkwave-y even. The themes of the LIFER side recur here and there, and the vocal samples also make a return. It’s almost as if EXISTER is a remix treatment of LIFER, but that would be too simplistic – the thematic elements are similar but different enough that the narrative is an extension of LIFER, not a reconfiguration of it. And that’s not to suggest either that EXISTER is somehow lesser than LIFER – it’s simply a different beast. “EXISTER III” is perhaps a distillation of the side as a whole, a perfect realization of song and texture that’s tense, melodic, and euphoric, all within the same five minutes. And then of course there’s the total curveball of “EXISTER IV,” a synth-only hymn that breaks up the heavier moodiness, a respite among the noise of living and/or existing.
I definitely have a soft spot for melodic, heavy-mood electronic post rock, if that’s what you really want to call it (dubstep and juke are just illusions! No DJ culture here!), and the juxtaposition of Bob McCully’s Women in Tragedy period (and my enjoyment of it) and his time as Wizard Of only proves further that hard dudes like me and Bob also have soft spots. … Or something like that. That’s a bit convoluted, but trust me, the point is that Wizard Of has a heck of a tape here, and if this is the springboard to new visions and new sonic adventures, then we’re in for a great ride. (The point is also that I’m tough, I really, really am. And I want you to believe that so bad.)
RIYL: Infinity Shred, Jatun, DJ Rashad, Machinedrum