The Invisible City is what remains after young people desert the infrastructure in search of better jobs and cleaner air. Wang Wen watched this exodus occur in Dailan, China, a city the band describes as “grim,” yet proudly, “home.” The album title is taken from a novel by Italo Calvino, the music recorded in Iceland, a fitting location due to its wide open spaces. The band’s tenth album can be heard as a requiem, its opening track graced by the sadness of theremin and the comfort of trumpet. But the album doesn’t stay sad. The music provides a reminder that the city is still populated by good people, its prospects not entirely curtailed.
Wang Wen offers a rare blend of post-rock and jazz pop, in the manner of Chicago. The brass segments stand out wherever they appear, making Invisible City the perfect album for a long Sunday drive. Post-rock is seldom this serene, but the band’s long history, spanning the length of the century, has helped the members settle softly like comfortable couches. 2016’s Sweet Home, Go! was a global breakthrough, in large part thanks to the band’s decision to concentrate on the instrumental. The Invisible City continues in this vein, although it does offer tonal and temporal shifts, with smoother, calmer, shorter songs. While pounding moments are few and far between, the density advances in nearly every track. The band is more interested in conveying a mood, championing the city as a place of consistency, suffused with history, as if saying to the younger generation, you can always come back. The city’s arms remain open.
“Silenced Dalian” travels the furthest distance from beginning to end. An ultra-slow beginning includes a “Tubular Bells”-esque bell passage played six times faster. The dueling tempos imply different generations, one deliberate, the other impatient. All too quickly, the bells exit, which means they are not around to hear the lovely, delicate brass. Consider it the difference between brewed and bottled tea. One is clearly better, the other more convenient; but something is lost in speed. When the band is ready ~ more than five minutes in ~ fuzzy guitars begin hitting large chords. Then the dam bursts. It’s such a beautiful, slow eruption, set up by all that has come before. There’s something to be said about businesses passed down generation to generation, building reputations layer upon layer, year upon year ~ and the band nails it with a final, corrosive minute, as if saying, this is where it all pays off.
Wang Wen relaxes in the ambient “Outro,” demonstrating that they have come to be at peace with all that has happened, no longer lamenting their losses but cherishing their gains. After nearly 20 years, they deserve a little time to settle back and reflect. (Richard Allen)