A collective in both genres amassed and sheer body count, Wrekmeister Harmonies has made good on its multifarious ethos. Founder and principal member JR Robinson has enlisted a slew of metal and experimental musicians over his past three records, including Jef Whitehead of Leviathan; Lee Buford and Chip King of The Body; members of Indian, Corrections House and Twilight; and Marissa Nadler, among several others. Robinson’s fourth album under the Wrek-Harm name – Light Falls – arguably contains his most high-profile ensemble yet, as he’s joined by three members from seminal post-rock pioneers Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Thierry Amar on bass and contrabass; Sophie Trudeau on piano, violin and vocals; and Timothy Herzog on drums). Yet, despite the notability of this trio’s inclusion, it’s not the most striking feature of Light Falls, an album which changes a crucial aspect of Wrek-Harm’s compositional approach up until this point.
Save for Robinson’s experimental debut Recordings Made in Public Spaces Volume One (yes, it’s exactly as it’s titled), Wrek-Harm’s preceding three releases have at most two songs in their track listing. You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me and Then It All Came Down are both extended compositions broken up by side and A and B only due to the nature of vinyl, and though Night of Your Ascension contains tow distinct tracks, the 30+ minute title track clearly dominates the proceedings. How Light Falls differs is immediately apparent – the track listing contains a whopping seven tracks, none of which break the ten minute mark.
Now, does this really matter all that much? Shouldn’t the music speak for itself? Well, yes, but the way in which a composition is delivered is arguably just as important. When a band creates an extended composition, as Wrek-Harm has done numerous times, it creates a mindset for the listener which focuses on movements rather than tracks, allowing for the band to seek evolution of structure that remains interesting over a long runtime. Not every band pulls this off effectively, of course, but when done well, these extended compositions can feel as rewarding as an entire album despite technically being a single track. If this type of composition is sought after within multiple tracks, it becomes easier for the listener to zone out or lose interest.
Which brings us back to Light Falls, and album which operates within an awkward middle ground between these two approaches. On the one hand, Robinson definitely had a clear, thematic approach for the album in mind – a blend of nineties-era neo-folk Swans; the fuzziest, gloomiest riffs from Mogwai‘s discography; and GY!BE’s atmosphere and drones. And there are some truly phenomenal highlights, like the heavily GY!BE influenced ‘The Gathering” which is accented with gorgeous classical details and swells into an enormous crescendo at its conclusion. And on “Where Have You Been My Lovely Son?,” Robinson makes one of his few vocal appearances on the album to mourn the sentiment behind the track’s title over a hazy acoustic ballad. With a husky-yet-vulnerable voice, Robinson plainly details the aftermath of an ended relationship with his son’s mother, wishing out loud to hold his son again. The track flawlessly explodes into closing track “Some Were Saved to Drown,” where Robinson howls over the album’s heaviest crescendo that has every player maxing out their respective instruments. It’s a loud, boisterous conclusion which perfectly caps off what the latter half of the album has to offer, boosted by a tasteful reprise of “Where Have You Been…” at the end.
But the track listing within which these gems are nestled diminish the package as a whole. This starts with the album’s opening trio of title tracks, none of which match the following three tracks’s quality. The trilogy unfolds far too plainly – opener “Light Falls I – the Mantra” is an uninspired iteration of the aforementioned Swans-esque neofolk, eventually bleeding into an altogether uneventful sludge romp on “Light Falls II – The Light Burns Us All,” which doesn’t evolve or evoke much over its runtime. And though “Light Falls III – Light Sick” is composed of a haunting, beautiful soundscape, it ends with an out of place, chunky crescendo that hinders its overall impact.
And herein lies the problem with Light Falls – it’s a tale of two albums which tries to flow together as a segmented version of Wrek-Harm’s extended compositional style. Each track of the opening trilogy is meant to lead into one another, but there’s no cohesion between any of them, and none are interesting enough to develop any type of forward movement or intrigue. Everything on the latter half of the album is phenomenal and successfully achieves what the trilogy is attempting to do. Wrek-Harm doesn’t have to relegate itself as a project for extended compositions, but Light Falls isn’t a strong testament to their ability to create a more traditional album which reaches the same heights. Ironically, if the “Light Falls” trilogy was removed from Light Falls in favor of a fleshed out approach to the album’s back end, the album would be an incredible, cohesive piece. But as it stands, Light Falls is an internally divisive album that knows what it wants to say but often lacks the verbiage to convey its message.