What’s Between, the debut album of WIFE, is quite the surprise. In a good way. A very good way.
WIFE is the name used by James Kelly, formerly the main member and writer with Irish experimental black metal band Altar of Plagues. Kelly disbanded Altar of Plagues last year, after the release of their superb, adventurous third album Teethed Glory and Injury, explaining that he felt that band had gone as far as he felt it could go in expressing where he wanted to go musically.
Listening to What’s Between, you can hear why. Because What’s Between is, at its heart, a pop album. There’s sweetly sung sentimental lyrics, hooky choruses, catchy refrains, bass that makes your hips move.
But What’s Between is also dense, dark; full of layers and shadows, much as Teethed Glory and Injury was. A sense of uneasiness lingers throughout, with lyrics of vulnerability and loneliness catching the ear while harsh white noise floats in and out, and the bass drops so deep as to become uncomfortable.
On this album, Kelly’s exploring the line between light and dark, between the masculine and feminine, creating as he does so something both beautiful and disturbing.
Co-produced by The Haxan Cloak, there’s a strong sense of the subterranean menace that permeates the sound his Triangle Records label mate creates for his own albums. The eerie effect is only increased by frequent use of close-harmony backing vocals, creating a funeral feel. But also religious, spiritual, a chorus that uplifts Kelly’s husky, sensual lead vocal lines.
I’ve been listening to this album a lot since the CD arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday evening – less than a week after ordering it online, thanks Boomkat! Indeed, I’ve barely listened to anything else. What’s Between‘ssensual, sexy, subtle glory, its interplay between strength and weakness instantly appealing and suiting my mood. The layered, careful production reveals something new on each listen; this album’s secrets aren’t revealed easily but are rewarding when uncovered.
Beautiful, oddly beautiful. The album’s grounding with instruments recorded live before the producer’s wand is waved over it leaves this clearly electronic album feeling natural, windswept, elegiac.
‘Dans Ce’ is the album’s centre point, seven minutes of throbbing bass and encompassing vocals, singing “the world is darkest in the light.” Kelly recorded his vocals for this track while gazing at the fog-covered hills outside his parents’ house in Ireland, and that mysterious, Celtic tinge pervades the track. Then it drops to near silence before slowly building up again with layers of odd, unsettling electronic sounds, shards of white noise moving in and out over a synth refrain. And suddenly you’re in the midst of a mid-tempo dance number, half-heard vocal harmonies floating above while the bass kicks your hips into motion.
Beer match: Tuatara use the tagline “a religious experience” for their ‘Belgian Tripel‘. While it may not quite hit the mark of a true Belgian tripel, it has layers of subtle complexity and sultry sweetness going on that would fit What’s Between quite nicely.