Wes Willenbring, you depress me. And I love you for that. When I head into one of your albums, I prep myself for weighty shrouds of emotion and the sense of something being slowly drawn out of some poorly lighted corner of my soul. When I talk about your work I try to avoid sounding pretentious by comparing it to Pärt or Górecki, but those are my frames of reference for the kind of effect it has on me. Of course, neither of them (to my knowledge) worked with huge swaths of distorted guitar like you have in “Something Essential.” The way it’s played off against a light choral vocal, a sweet voice chanting a la la la song softly, makes for gorgeous contrast. And it seems so simple in its make-up, just big drops of chords hit and held and taking dominance. Drone plays a large part in your work here, too, like the unyielding field of sound that is “Juarez Dirge.” It feels static, but there’s a constant shifting and readjusting. Hypnotic in its straight-line sensibility. What makes it work even more is how it empties out into silken strings and angelic vocal pads that open “Voices from the Desert.” This is where I find my strongest connotations of Pärt, the meditative oasis in the midst of harder sounds. It is a thing of simple, undemanding grace and beauty. You catch me in a different way on “Toward Sovereignty”; I go all theater-of-the-mind on myself through its dark ceremony, its pomp grim and understated but still forceful. It feels like the slow coronation walk of an unloved king, the ascension of the oppressor. And outside of having an award-winning title, “An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom” is a brilliant way to go out, a big and unforgiving crush of raw distortion, building and building in my ears. Its hissing edge, its pulsing proto-rhythm built out of the oscillation of waves, the subtlety of its chord structure—I may just as well close my eyes every time it comes on and just give over the five minutes. It’s where I want to be. And the sudden end, the last fading seconds, they leave an ache, a physical disconnect, that is fully tactile.
Faces Without Names is just over half an hour long, but as is always the case for me with Willenbring’s music, I feel like I’ve dwelt there for much longer, doing nothing but taking in sound and feeling. And sure, it may take me through some dark places in my soul as it goes past, but that’s what catharsis is for, right? More superb work from Mr. Willenbring. Go hear this.
Available from Bandcamp.