One doesn’t listen to a bvdub album as much as one experiences a bvdub album. Brock Van Wey’s releases tend to be expansive in sound and generous in length. Explosions in Slow Motion fills four sides of vinyl and at 77:32, pushes the edge of the CD. The LP contains four tracks, each over a quarter hour in length, and four interludes, each under three. But set aside some time, as this album is best enjoyed in an uninterrupted flow. One would be hard-pressed to notice when the tracks change; they blend like segments of a stream.
There are also many types of bvdub albums, some honoring the name with dub, others more electronic, others veering into techno or modern composition. This one (despite the semantic reminder of Explosions in the Sky) leans more toward ambience: an uncluttered home furnished with piano and strings. The time-stretched vocals of former releases are kept to a minimum, discernible yet shy. The mood is melancholic, like the resignation one feels after a loss has sunk in.
The tonal shift from warm to chill is literal as well; this reflects a relocation from California to Warsaw. Van Wey has done this before (former destination: China), but not to this extent. The impetus was political (see the liner notes for Heartless), as times are particularly rough in the United States right now. While there are problems all over, a change of scenery can always be helpful. The combination of physical withdrawal and an icy winter has inspired one of the artist’s most introspective albums. The cold swirls outside and in.
And yet, thanks to the interludes, this sprawling album yields great consistency. The strings of “Ember 1” echo of those found in the opening track, while the surge of “Ember 2” provides a reflection of the explosion hinted at in the title track. “Slow motion” is an apt descriptor, as nothing here happens very fast; even the shift from a three-note techno motif to a piano and string-drenched finale happens without fanfare, and those notes continue to swirl for quite some time.
While other bvdub albums have conjured emotion, this one delves into thought. What am I doing on this planet? How shall I respond to the events around me? Which is better: to engage and be angry, or to disengage and be pensive? If I write an elegy, who or what shall it be for? The Warsaw winter calls these thoughts into such sharp relief; the end of the album seems like soft replenishment. As n5MD remains in Oakland, this means bvdub has moved away, but sent something beautiful back. In this mourning, there is remembrance, and remembrance produces strength.
A Haruki Murakami quote sheds light on the title: “Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star. It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.” One might call such an effect a legacy. The glory of the past is no less glorious when it is gone; it may even be enhanced. We simply need the distance in order to appreciate it. (Richard Allen)