Amsterdam’s Wanderwelle is a duo in flux, their dub techno origins on Silent Season yielding over time to a darker and more drone-like sheen. 2020’s A State of Decrepitude addressed the processes of decay, both physical and societal: the decline of architectures, institutions and coastlines. On that album, the duo hinted at their concern regarding climate change, a concern that has now grown into a clarion call. Black Clouds Above the Bows hones in on this theme, and is the first of an intended trilogy. This scope of such a project leads one to conclude that Wanderwelle’s entire career has been building to this point.
The tonal draw for the listener is the use of antique cavalry trumpets, which bear a sound that was once ubiquitous but has since become virtually extinct. Resurrecting the instrument, Wanderwelle shifts pitches and repurposes the trumpet’s warning cry for a new generation. Over the course of the album, the trumpets progress from background to foreground, ambient to noise, more insistent and strident as the crisis grows: a brass echo of Greta Thunberg. On a more encouraging note, the opening piece is named after Jonah, whose warnings were heard, although the prophet remained disgruntled. And while the idea of sirens is mentioned – as in the sirens that lured men to their doom – the purpose of cavalry trumpets was to motivate. As long as the trumpets sound, there is time to correct the course; once that time has passed, the sound is stilled.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is cited as inspiration, continuing an artistic sense established on Gathering of the Ancient Spirits, which referenced Paul Gauguin. A requisite air of foreboding stretches across the entire set, whose first-half tone – although not its composition – is reminiscent of Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic. One wonders where the trajectory of the trilogy might lead, the only hint being the title of the second entry, All Hands Bury the Cliffs at Sea. It’s hard to imagine each subsequent installment being more turbulent than the end of the first, although it’s feasible. Unfortunately, while the growing use of brass reflects a growing warning, it has not to this point reflected growing action. If “The Devil Knows How to Row,” as the famous saying (and here, track title) declares, then why are we increasing his sea? (Richard Allen)