Heartless is an unusual name for a bvdub album, in that Brock Van Wey’s music always seems to have heart. But it’s a more restrained album that we are used to hearing from the prolific artist, which leads us to believe that the script has been flipped. The artist has experienced the seeming heartlessness of the world, and has chosen to address it with warmth.
The slow-growing nature of the album is its strength. It’s a long set, washing over the listener like a healing balm. There are no beats to provide anchor, no markers on which to hang one’s hat ~ just pure, thick banks of synthetic drift. The track titles all end with “-less”, as if to deny boundaries. Yet despite its amorphous sheen, the album also yields a great bit of form, which reveals itself in surprising ways ~ the thick cumulus cloud of “Sleepless” dissipating to wispy tendrils, allowing the piano to shine forth, a technique repeated on subsequent tracks as well.
We still hear the repetitions and manipulated vocals that have become part of bvdub’s work, but this time out, the mood seems muted. We live in serious times, especially in the U.S., where the daily news has an influence on the way we hear music. Depending on our mindset, we may receive Heartless as a confused reaction, a clouded judgment, a lonely cry, or (politics cast aside) a gorgeous set of tender tracks. We want to read things into the music because we need to read things into the music, whether or not they are there. But even a passing knowledge of bvdub’s journey allows us to relax a bit ~ yes, that is real melancholy we hear, but also great dedication to craft. Whenever the lyrics grow legible, we sense a yearning for meaningful connection, an antithesis to the bombast of public conversation.
The cover also takes a proud seat in the pantheon of bvdub’s art, which seemed to reach its pinnacle with The Art of Dying Alone and One Last Look at the Sea. But while those were lonely covers, the new image is one of power. The positioning of the font implies a cross, or King Arthur’s sword ~ a straight path plowed through the wilderness. If only we could soar above our own depression and despair to see a larger plan or a valid exit. bvdub plunged into his own pain to create this album, seeking to dissect it from within, but instead found something mysterious and lovely, a dormant seed.
With 29 albums under this name appearing in the last ten years, bvdub has proven himself capable of continued creativity. The fact that this is one of his best works speaks highly of his development as an artist. The album has come along just when we need it ~ a harmonic hum to play over the dissonance of the world. It may be called Heartless, but it feels a lot like love. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 15 September