A standard beginning. Perhaps, too standard. Let's try a different approach:
"Mariusz Duda (Riverside), with Wawrzyniec Dramowicz (UnSun, Indukti, Destruction), ventures into a hermetic world of isolated creativity and absorption of the creativity of others, escapism as imprisonment, fantasy as antidote to the potential poisons of reality, all the while aware that it could become a poison in itself."
Hmmm … not quite right, either …
Let's quote Duda himself while I gather some thoughts …
"Walking On A Flashlight Beam" - the title indicates living in a world of imagination, in a place that's made up and unreal. You can have your head in the clouds, you can chase after rainbows so you can walk on a flashlight beam too. It's a story about choosing to be alone, inspired by the life of people who were completely alienated and withdrawn from social life, who shunned all interactions with the outside world. It's about people who, even on a bright and sunny day, have the curtains drawn and the blinds closed in their rooms. Such people are usually surrounded by books, films, games, figments of other people's imagination. I've written about solitude and living in a world of fiction before in Riverside's lyrics but now I've decided to write a whole album about it.
OK. I'm back. Let's just discuss the album itself, maybe referencing a few semi-relevant things.
Duda inhabits a similar sound world to Steven Wilson, Bruce Soord, and Vincent Cavanagh (although this might not be of much help to you). It's about the choice of sounds, the vocal intonation and enunciation. They share similar traits, but only on the surface. Each of the aforementioned has individual preoccupations, and Duda perhaps more than the rest.
The album sets out with its ambitions firmly established: atmospheric synths and washes, crystalline sounds with hints of distortion, and a steady build of intensity and layering for 4 minutes lead to the first appearance of obvious structure and melody. When it arrives, it has a clear determination about it, a will to make a statement. "Shutting Out The Sun" is largely instrumental, before the vocals arrive, understated near-whispers at first before a layer of echoing vocals comes in. The effect is quite epic, not in terms of grandeur, but in scope, a sense of wide open space. In the context of this album, however, that wide-openness is about an interior landscape rather than soaring over mountains and oceans found in a shared reality.
"Cold" takes the atmospheric elements to a different arena, with a juddering percussion filtered back in the mix, then transforms into a straight four-to-the-floor beat. It offers a conventional song structure to some extent, but the core structure has more in common with an evolving dance track than a verse/chorus/bridge kind of structure.
"Gutter" has a tribal edge to it, a hint of eastern scales, but in a European context. The tension is maintained throughout, with some unexpected chordal shifts, a bass line that feels like a bodyguard lurking in the background, and beat that is relentless, although one which rises and falls in terms of presence.
"Stars Sellotaped" is a marvellous instrumental interlude, a nebulous, dreamscape (reminding me somewhat of Akira Yamaoka's excellent soundtrack to the Silent Hill series of video games).
"The Fear Within" initiates a different mood entirely, reminiscent of Aphex Twin's ambient excursions both in execution and mood. However, there is a kind of deranged whimsicality present that leaves you uncertain whether the dreamer of this particular dream is having a good time or not. Even when the fingerpicked acoustic guitar arrives, it sounds as though Duda is trying to convince us (or himself) that all isn't quite as unhinged as it appears to be. The piece then moves into a different, somewhat abrasive realm, gradually tapering out.
"Treehouse" returns to a conventional song structure, with a certain hint of post-Beatles plodding of the same kind found sometimes on ELO and Barclay James Harvest's earlier albums. It feels like light relief, sandwiched as it is between the previous excursion and the subsequent "Pygmalion's Ladder". This latter track sees a return of the eastern hints, but this time, the tension is achieved through a sense of uncertainty rather than threat. Steven Wilson and Radiohead analogies are possible, yet unworthy. The development of the track is certainly one that Thom Yorke would never pursue, although Wilson might (to a degree). The voltage increases, the track quickly becoming a rampaging version of itself before dropping back to acoustic guitar and gentle synth sounds. And then erupting again!
"Sky Drawn in Crayon" begins gently enough, but at this point, you're on edge. And not without cause, given the tracks that have led here … Duda's choice of synth sounds is clearly of importance to him (as they are to any decent musician), but he utilises them in ways that serve to unsetllte the balance. He won't allow you to get too cozy for too long. When things seem smooth, it's a set up. The car indicator light say "left" but he'll turn right, and straight into oncoming traffic. While not as "in your face" disturbing as, say, Scott Walker's "The Drift", Duda seems to possess similar intent at times. The electrostatic synth stabs on this track along with the detuned arpeggio that nags at you create true unease. The sudden cut-off would have made for an excellent ending to the album. But there is still one more track – and the title track at that …
"Walking on a Flashlight Beam" begins with the
kind of synth sounds that many 70s rock bands embraced in the early 80s (Yes,
Jethro Tull, etc), but the push-pull drumbeat and a lead synth line take it to
a different space. There is something declamatory about Duda's vocals,
something that seems to convey a meaning without any need to understand the
exact words he is singing. The track seems to possess a paradoxically warm melancholy,
a sense of purpose in a directionless ambition. Its near-unresolved ending is
perhaps the perfect end for the album.
Duda's output as Lunatic Soul is as interesting as his work
with Riverside. The two strands of his output are sufficiently different to be
separated, yet not so different as to call into question the level of genuine
affinity he has for either (it's not a case of the rock vocalist releasing an
album of twee synth pop songs, basically … you know what I mean – we've all
seen and heard such offences). While the album is perhaps a little uneven,
lacking here, overburdened there, it is a satisfying one. It is certainly the
best Lunatic Soul offering to date, and, to my ears at least, the best Duda has
produced in any setting. And, as it happens, this is a sentiment he shares
"These are very dark and intense compositions but very melodious too. I think it’s one of the bestthings I’ve ever written, if not the best one.”