Driving home from Whitby in North Yorkshire on a gloriously sunny Sunday was definitely a strange time to channel cyberpunk beats and severe monastic soundscapes through my sun-baked earholes. But, combining what initially seem like opposed and contrasting musical environments can often lead to weird and wonderful states of mind, as I would soon discover with Teeth Of The Sea’s consuming and hypnotic 2019 release Wraith.
I thought it would be appropriate to begin with that anecdote because it encapsulates the method by which Wraith evokes mood. Contrast. The familiar and the unfamiliar. Have you ever coasted through a whole day with the subtle but definite feeling that something is just off? You can’t quite seem to place why, you’re not sure whether it’s you or everyone else. You go to bed that night still pondering but you never end up putting a finger on it. That is precisely what this album feels like.
There’s an ancient quasi-religious aura that Wraith emits, similar to the paganistic sonic palette Porcupine Tree were shooting for with albums like 1996 record Signify. It’s enveloping and unnervingly funereal at times but with a slick modern edge. Tracks like “Fortean Steed” and “Burn of the Shieling” seep with shamanistic chanting and horns while eventually segueing into wiry beats as if you’d teleported a 4th century monk to the modern age and asked him to ditch his religious vows and become an electronic music producer. This ineffable quality of face value futurism tied with archaic timbres continues with “VISITOR”, a track that shows TOTS’s clear influence from electronically-tinged post and psychedelic rock. As the track builds it conjures a sprawling cyberpunk ‘utopia’ in the mind, but you don’t have to dig that deep to discover the reality—the shiny, synthetic veneer covering the uncomfortable truth that the social order is ultimately amiss, crumbling, disintegrating.
Although the album’s mood is forever in flux and difficult to pin down, what always strikes me about it is the sense of presence. For the band members this was deliberate as, soon after the recording process for Wraith began, they started noticing strange occurrences, objects moving around the studio of their own accord, unplugged amps making unexplained noises. The band members soon christened the presence the “wraith” and regardless of whether it was damning or endorsing their endeavours, they pressed on recording material dedicated to the ‘unknown presence’.
Cut back to our drive back from Whitby, the inescapable otherness, but allure, of the record reached a horrifying apex when—passing through the Tyne Tunnel, a place I would normally associate with tender feelings of home—penultimate track “Our Love Can Destroy This Whole Fucking World” morphed this feeling into something wholly more sinister. I gazed at the dull amber lights of the tunnel breezing by and suddenly had the most wildly unhindered thought: ‘maybe it isn’t actually my parents in the front seat… maybe their bodies have been replaced by identical but artificial and counterfeit replicas… maybe they’re not taking me home at all… where are we going?’