HXDK‘s The Letting Go brings to mind multiple associations, including the Melissa Etheridge song of the same title (“I came here to let you know the letting go has taken place …”), the violent tantrum in the film version of Where the Wild Things Are, and an old story that goes something like this: “I was angry, so I broke everything in my room, and it wasn’t enough, so I went outside and broke everything in the neighborhood, and it still wasn’t enough, so I broke everything in the world. And now I have nowhere to live.”
The Letting Go is a reflection of burned bridges, of anger gone awry, of wildfires raging out of control, leaving charred embers in their wake. The album is a document of loss, sculpted into sound. Often when one expends so much energy, one is left enervated, drained, spent; one flips to depression, folding inward and withdrawing from the world. This doesn’t seem to be what has happened here; the artist seems instead to have dealt with his demons through the therapy of creation, and wrenched from the wreckage an ability to go on.
Drone is an excellent genre for reflecting negative emotions, such as confusion, betrayal and anger. Volume and distortion are effective tools for conveying intensity, and the artist uses them well here. The six-song suite starts quietly, with a single sine that gradually expands until it encroaches on the personal space of other sounds. These neighbors – reverberated guitar, feedback, dark bass – begin to fight back, insisting on distance. Soon, everyone is fighting.
The thickness of the mix is a reflection of the cloud that conquers thought, obscuring reason and self-control. When one is in this cloud, one experiences, whether consciously or subconsciously, a white noise buzz. Positive thoughts flee from this noise, while negative thoughts frolic in it.
The difficulty of keeping balance is reflected in an old Cherokee story. The Cherokees teach that there are two wolves within us, Good and Evil. The wolf who wins is the one we feed.
The white noise grows. One wolf grows stronger.
As the album progresses, the drone is fed like a furnace as more material is thrown in and consumed. One suspects that eventually the whole world will be consumed. By the fifth track (“… Just to Watch it Burn”), subtleties dissipate, eaten by the flames. Yet in the final two minutes, a melody emerges from the ash, setting the stage for the concluding piece.
At the start, “Embers” is mournful, nearly ambient in nature. But after a minute, dissonance begins to creep back in. Could this be a sign that the anger has been tamed? Or that it only looks tamed, but lurks beneath the surface? As Bruce Banner says to Captain America in The Avengers, “Wanna know my secret, Captain? I’m always angry.” When the piano emerges, playing single notes in the lower register, one suspects that the darkness has merely receded. And yet this is the way of all humanity. Anger and depression are never eradicated; we can only hope to keep them in check. By translating emotion into music, HXDK has taken a huge step in this direction, demonstrating that it can be done – if we are honest, if we are brave. (Richard Allen)