Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating increasingly towards, what I find to be, meditative music in and out of the heavier end of the pool. This is largely because that pool is growing increasingly deeper and wider with quality releases. When we look at emerging music in the fields of prog, post-rock, and ambient we can see a clear upward trend of what has become available. Acts such as ZETA, Caspian, 65daysofstatic, and This Will Destroy You, while largely different from one another, show the wide spread in what is out there for people to discover.
Sometimes truly remarkable releases wind up being missed or picked up on later than they should because we are spoiled for such choice. At other times, however, great albums can fall into our laps as if somehow by fate especially when they come in the form of side-projects where a group of artists come together to produce something very different than their lineage might otherwise indicate.
When TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins decided to explore his own pet project by joining forces with Skyharbor’s Keshav Dhar and Randy Slaugh to create White Moth Black Butterfly, it began as a modest attempt to explore some ideas that diverged from the type of rock for which his main band is most known. 2013’s One Thousand Wings (here’s what we had to say about “Certainty” from that album) was a sonic departure, to be sure, but it still maintained something of a kinship with its flagship influences. As with anything that we’ve come to understand about Tompkins, he will expound upon ideas over time and so the re-emergence of this project in 2017 means we should expect a few new twists, turns, and embellishments on the sound he helped to create several years ago.
On new album, Atone, Tompkins and company combine the subtleties of prog and post-rock, elements of modern pop, British soul, and a hefty dash of ambient sensibilities to yield an arresting, cohesive album immersed in introspective, occasionally impenetrable, opacity. The album conveys a very dream-like state that feels as if we’re looking down upon a landscape that is obscured by clouds and fog that peel away in moments to reveal the scene below only to be shaded once more. It is as much a mood piece as it is an album communicating the themes of hope, loss, and, yes, atonement.
In press for the album, it is mentioned that this project is meant as an exploration of Tompkins’ love of many non-metal artists but the ones that show through most here are Massive Attack and Sigur Ros. “Tempest” gives us Tompkins showing off in a soulful way that exhibits a range of influences from Dustin Kensrue (Thrice) to Dallas Green (City and Colour) and even, believe it or not, Justin Timberlake. That soulful take continues on “An Ocean Away” where he cedes center stage to the talents of Jordan Turner who turns in a sultry and shimmering performance here. However, buried in all of the trappings of a soul album with an electronic heart we also hear some very nice moments where the prog elements shine through. The album’s true lead track, “Burning Sun”, is the bright, shining example of that here but similar traces are found throughout, particularly on “The Serpent” and “Evelyn”, while “The Sage” contains melody lines that invoke early Dream Theater.
One potential shortcoming of the album, though, is that some of the moments feel more like teases than fully fleshed out ideas. For instance, “III Deep Earth” while serving as a solid segue or chapter introduction to the closing stretch of the album, feels like it could have been extended and further explored before giving way to “Evelyn” which is carried on a vibe of hope in facing an internal strife. By cutting the meditation prior short it makes the punch of the latter track a little less impressive or striking. However, setting aside this quibble, the interplay of dynamics on the album are rather seamless which lends a credibility and depth to the sweeping yet intimate, cinematic feel of the whole.
The band have issued a couple of very nice pieces of video for this album already that reinforce and capture that feel extremely well. The scene for Mac Christensen’s drum playthrough of “The Serpent” is absolutely gorgeous (the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah) and stands well enough on its own as typifying what this band does but they up the ante greatly on their grandiose film translation of “The Tempest”. The band have chosen extremely wel in using as a backdrop of one of Scotland’s more remarkable natural areas (Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park for those keeping score) for this rather Lord of the Rings-esque envisioning of the source material. Though this choice of scenery may have been too jarring in other hands here, as with the album itself, we are treated to an extremely well executed artistic vision.
Atone is beautifully well-paced even if some portions could be longer or extended in ways to fully flesh out some of the extremely interesting variations and explorations. That is both the beauty and the agony of this album. Clocking in at a modest 37 minutes the album leaves audiences wanting so much more. This is good in that it lends itself to repeated listening but one wonders where else this album could go if it had been allowed to be slightly more sprawling? Regardless, this is a beautiful collection of emotive and thought-provoking songs that fans of music, in general, should immediately add to their collections.
Pick up White Moth Black Butterfly’s Atone here.