Shortwave Nights is the first physical documentation of the long-standing collaboration between David Bryant (Godspeed You! Black Emperor/Set Fire to Flames) and Kevin Doria (Growing/Total Life). The expectations are understandably high, but there’s no need for anxiety. Constellation is a consistently trustworthy label, and these artists are on top of their game.
Those who have seen GY!BE in concert are aware of the importance of the visuals, which are inextricable from the music in a live context. Karl Lemieaux’s 16mm projections have been integral to the continued success of the band, and Hiss Tracts calls upon his expertise to enhance this album as well. In a generous tip of the hat, the album’s first video, “halo getters”, bears his mark, while its first public audio track, “for the transient projectionist”, celebrates his profession. The rolling reel, the melting film, the overlaid images, the lashes on the screen: all are present. The first track grows into a thick guitar drone; the second starts with the rhythmic tolling of a bell, and develops into an analog fog. Audible conversation appears in the background, an echo of prior GY!BE works; a vocoder warps the words before feeding them into a harmonic shredder. Doria’s influence is clearly visible, the stabilizing butter on the charred toast.
The album’s only misstep is “drake motel / 9 gold cadillacs”, thankfully short at only 1:16. This track sounds most like GY!BE, as an inebriated man plays the harmonica, reminisces about his father dying, then starts talking about Bible prophecy while littering his speech with expletives. Not only is this the only track to highlight speech (breaking the mood), it’s completely obvious and unsurprising, given the band’s earlier work; its maudlin nature cheapens the album. We know that Bryant and Doria are capable of better, as proven by the other nine tracks.
The title track, for example, combines post-rock and drone in a manner that defies both. Twin guitars meander in a static field. Cello lends a dark undercurrent, a hand visible beneath the muddy river. A distorted transmission attempts to break through, but succeeds only as the selection is winding down. “test recording at trembling city” is introduced with crackle – just another broken signal dying in the wires. But by the end, it seems as if every signal in the city is flooding the system at once. Hiss Tracts – the name implying both electricity and evangelism – holds an analog mirror to a digital world, and sweeps up the glass after the mirror has been broken. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 13 May