Late last fall, Wilderness Hymnal released his debut album Anthropocene, “nine tracks spanning inventive post-rock, stormy piano passages and unnerving psychedelia that explore ecological and emotional harm, and the parallels between them.” The solo project of British-Venezuelan singer and pianist Javier Wallis, Anthropocene transcends genre in favor of a dynamic stew of songcraft. While it features more prominent vocals than much of what we cover here at ACL, the attention to texture, dynamics, and evolving song structures make Anthropocene a record that is sure to resonate with many of our readers. The album’s message is also timely, and manifests in the content of the music in fascinating ways. The press release begins with an epigraph from Carl Sagan which immediately grabbed my attention: “An organism at war with itself is doomed.” Whether or not this is a prophecy of destruction or a ray of hope is up to us.
The mix Mouths Full of Blood combines old favorites with new discoveries, resulting in an elegant and shifting amalgamation of styles and voices that demostrates one possible means of achieving peace through diversity. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Stream/download at Soundcloud
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Javier Wallis. I’m a pianist, producer, vocalist and visual artist, currently working under the Wilderness Hymnal moniker. This project is about evocation, and messing with the boundaries of genre, with the core goal to avoid writing the same song twice.
For my current day job I am based in Manchester, UK and work in music radio and events, which allows me to be independent as an artist and have the final say on all parts of my process. I guess I’m what you would call a ‘creative freelancer’.
Sounds great! Can you share something with us about your local scene that you want more people to know about?
Manchester is a strange city – there is always a lot going on, but it can feel like layer upon layer of scenes that don’t necessarily interact much with each other.
The most fulfilling creative ‘scenes’ I am part of mainly involve networks of friends united by common interest or purpose. This includes artists working in experimental, electronic, post-rock, progressive and heavy music – including Vennart, Trojan Horse, Pijn, Glarus, Inconcessus Lux Lucis, She The Throne, Dujat, Dead Sea Apes, Drift Collective and the You Might Not Like This.
But there also isn’t a geographical restriction – I feel there is a community of like-minded artists stretching across the country, including Mésange, Cattle (and Chunk Collective in Leeds), Vodun, AJA, Bismuth, Holy Roar Records, Gizeh Records, Box Records, God Unknown Records, AnalogueTrash, Raw Power Festival, Supernormal and Supersonic Festival.
Soup Kitchen, YES, Partisan and the Peer Hat are currently Manchester’s best DIY venues. There is a great youth music organisation called Brighter Sound which does essential work.
And Manchester also has a vibrant LGBTQ+ arts scene which is going from strength to strength.
Tell us more about the mix.
This mix is about voices – striking, evocative and unique voices that I find moving and inspiring. Some, like Anna von Hausswolff, Fever Ray and Dead Can Dance have influenced me for years, including the new record. Others, like Kathryn Joseph and Colin Self, are more recent discoveries that I have been enjoying and want to share.
“As above, so below.’ This profoundly simple mystical truth is very much worth repeating considering the shameful state the world is in. I appreciate the way your album links the large scale ecological collapse and societal sickness with personal, psychological concerns, as they are so often related, even reciprocal. What was it about the ‘anthropocene‘ as a concept that led you to focus on this relation? How does the concept play out in the formal/compositional qualities of the album?
Before I was a serious musician, I studied life sciences, with a major focus on ecology. It profoundly influenced my worldview, and one central thing to understand is that everything really is connected. I think we are yet to grasp the true dramatic scale of how interwoven our well-being is with pre-industrial nature. The further we move from that, the more we pollute and the more we destroy ecosystems, the sicker we will get.
The disappearance of nature is not something I can ignore, and is the source of a lot of personal grief. Nonetheless, I have to live in the city for work, and aspects of this are definitely detrimental to my physical and mental health – obviously the pollution, but also being boxed away indoors so often, or around too many other people, surrounded by noise and information. I see the increase in depression, anxiety and mental disorders (as well as cancers etc.) as a symptom of the distortion and poisoning of the world we evolved in. This is why I was drawn to the concept of the Anthropocene as a statement. The conditions of the Holocene barely exist anymore, and only as ghosts, fragments.
So it’s personal. It’s about dealing with my own sicknesses as well as the larger-scale terror of what we’re doing as a species.
The concept plays out in the compositional qualities of the album mainly from a production standpoint – I worked very specific evocative references into the lyrics, sounds, instrumentation and treatment of several songs, to link them to particular landscapes, going further and more lateral than just the use of field recordings.
For example, I wanted “Meltwater” to sound glacial, heating up over time. I wanted “Abyssal” to sound deep and cavernous, like the Mariana Trench, and “Aorta” and “Caldera” are volcanic in my head. So this was the core feature, but compositionally, several of the songs also degrade or shift unpredictably. They end up in very different places to where they started. Terra incognita, like where we are headed.
Beautifully put. Thank you!
Hildur Guðnadóttir – Folk Faer Andlit (People Get Faces)
Noura Mint Seymali – Arbina
DM Stith – Murmurations / Cormorant
Olga Bell – Perm Krai
Dead Can Dance – Agape
Camille – Sous Le Sable
Anna Von Hausswolff – The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra
Kathryn Joseph – Mouths Full of Blood
Wardruna – Raido
Colin Self – Story
Lingua Ignota – God Gave Me No Name (No Thing Can Hide From My Flame)
Fever Ray – Mustn’t Hurry
Soap&Skin – Sugarbread