On the Darkest Day, You took My Hand and Swore It Will Be Okay is a pure pandemic album, conceived during the lockdowns, protests and wildfires of Los Angeles. Sometimes Ian Wellman had the stamina to venture out, to record as ash fell from the skies and helicopters passed through the occluded air. Other times he “watched the world burn without leaving his home,” taking in the ugliness of the political scene, the inattention to science and reason, the callousness of strangers. Much of his anger and frustration is poured into these pieces, which struggle to make sense of it all. Yet he refuses to be overcome by anxiety and fear, concluding with tracks about friendship and light, along with a plea to “hold on to one another.”
The prologue is telling: a slow drone tilting toward catastrophe, a rising mist that becomes fog, then ash, then fire. The musical metaphor is obvious. “It Crept Into Our Deepest Thoughts” is dour and dank, a reflection of the insidious disease that wormed its way into our bodies and minds. This time, the drone will be cut off in mid-build, like a pulled plug; the first of two times this will happen in the set. The blades of helicopters bisect the air like locusts, precursors of another plague.
The album then settles into a slow malaise. “The Toll on Our Daily Lives” vibrates like a virtual wake, the sort that was held when funeral homes were closed to the public. Again the white noise rises, relenting only at the very end. If the sounds of rain and a rooster seem like respites, read the title: “Ash Falling on Power Lines – Sept 2020).” For those who had already lived through so much, this must have seemed like an apocalypse, or worse, a series of apocalypses. A forlorn wind blows, rattling street signs; the link to Revelation is solidified in “As the Beast Swallowed Us Whole.” The major difference: this is not some outer Satan, some multi-headed monster; the Beast is us.
“We Screamed For Help But Our Voices Were Drowned Out By The Noise of The World” is an angry track. The implication is that everyone is screaming, but no one is listening; a great cacophony is created by a melange of advertisements and accusations, protests and disproportionate response. All the while, people are suffering, screaming, dying, drawing their final breaths. A drone rises and is sliced again, like the voice of dissent. Friends gather, huddle together for comfort.
At the very end, Wellman snaps our minds back to the title. He still believes in “A Light At The End.” Or does he? By excising the words “of the tunnel,” he leaves the interpretation wide open. The light at the end may be the light at the end of life, or something easier to reach. Friends and family told him it would be okay; he’s not quite sure what to tell us, but he wants to hope, and sometimes that’s enough. (Richard Allen)