40 Watt Sun Search for “Perfect Light” on Their New Album (Review)
The past’s weight lies heavy, pulling you towards the darkest depths while you fight to keep your head about water. The tiniest sliver of light above signals the way out–hope, redemption, life–lies on the other side of the waves as you push through the cloying gloom. There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your pain and that the loss felt at monumental heartbreak, friendships that hang by the slightest of threads and the death that is seemingly around every corner is a universal pattern that echoes the world over. Often these moments are talked about in hushed tones and darkened rooms, yet 40 Watt Sun brings all those memories to the forefront of Perfect Light and surrounds you with warmth, soothing the ache within the soul and lifting you up to the sunrise of a new dawn.
Perfect Light's drama lies in its simplicity as songs move steadily towards their closing moments, rarely repeating any one moment and doing away with the concept of the chorus almost altogether. Lyrical patterns are occasionally tweaked so similarities occur to bring about the sense of cohesion or a more standard song structure but overall the tracks are written as small novels. Songwriter and band principal Patrick Walker uses his songs as stories, as though sitting around the campfire with friends and unravelling his life as melodies and poems or as missives to a person lost to him. It’s deeply personal, as all 40 Watt Sun’s music is and the gentle production allows for the vulnerabilities of Walker’s voice to shine through. The imperfections are human and all the more engaging for it.
Having moved on from the doom beginnings of previous band Warning, Patrick Walker incepted 40 Watt Sun and while 2011s The Inside Room followed in Warning’s doomier steps, it soon became clear with 2016s Wider Than the Sky that he was going in a different direction. The songs therein were still hefty in length, yet the structure was less weighted in the heaviness of the instrumentation and instead leaned more towards emotional substance. With Perfect Light, that technique is refined further as songs are tracked in the footsteps set out by influences such as Jason Molina or Scott Walker, and are centered around an expressive voice that can affect your mood with a simple key change or tone.
As the album progresses we see the downfall of the relationship, told from the perspective of its narrator and the knowledge that sometimes, your best is not enough and while that is unfortunate, love is not always the bond that can hold you together. Perfect Light deals with this loss throughout the course of eight songs and we see the evolution of both narrator and subject(s) in each. "Reveal" is a blissful beginning in its sparse acoustic leads as Walker’s voice takes centre stage, backed by a haunting femme vocal. The song is a tender treatise on holding loved ones close and ultimately being there for them in any circumstance and uses the technique mentioned previously in that lyrics are filtered through a similar structure, with small changes in each line to navigate the movement of time and bring a sense of familiarity.
Walker uses a clever cadence in his songs and when he reaches the natural end of a line he gives brief pauses that add dramatic tension before continuing with the lyric. It is often not exactly what you expect and as your own experiences fill in the gaps it becomes clear that as personal as Perfect Light is to Patrick Walker, it will also become personal to you, too. The delicate touch is continued with subtle piano lines (Chris Redman) and an uplifting change in pitch towards "Behind My Eyes" ending that brings about a sense of bittersweet joy. The shift is unforeseen and as it reaches a crescendo we feel a hint of brightness that lies tantalisingly out of reach.
It is the calm which signals "Until’"s storm, a song which lends a touch of aggression to Perfect Light as we hear Walker’s voice take on harder tones—the pronunciation begins to feel more abrupt as words end harshly and the guitar is strummed with what feels like anger. Whether it's anger towards themselves or to another is open to interpretation, but "Until" feels like a monumental transformation in the story of regret and rebuilding. Realistion sets in the closing moments as the lyrics take on a reflective atmosphere and the brooding voice laments: "Show me all I ever translated into pain." 40 Watt Sun are adept at emotional heft and as the song builds to the climax there is a moment of breathlessness as shadowy memories filter through the haze.
The past is brought up several times across the album as the narrator (whether that's Patrick Walker directly, or the result of friends and family telling him of their own experiences), questions decisions made and contemplates the fallout. This idea is formed through lyrical choices as our storyteller comes to view lost love as a presence that is all-consuming, a ghost that haunts the hallways of life as Walker imagines how things might have been had another choice been made. As you become entangled in the narrative, Walker pulls you further into the midst of heartache with "Raise Me Up" and its powerful notions of recognising that the hardest decisions can sometimes be the right ones. As the song moves towards its conclusion we hear how the writer is on the brink of collapse in their relationship and is struggling with the question as to whether–"Am I strong enough to carry this? Or too weak to let it go?" and it is brutal in its honesty. The darkness permeates "A Thousand Miles" (featuring Ajit Gill of Vertaal on drums and Lorraine Rath of Amber Asylum and Worm Ouroboros on bass) as Walker treads the night and the pain that is found there while coming slowly to the realization the life continues despite your mistakes and that memories can be reassuring without devouring you in negativity.
The production is simple with occasional faults slipping through the cracks which makes the album more appealing for these human touches. You can hear slight inhales before a line is sung and the breaks in Walker’s voice when the emotion reaches its peak. It’s charming and exposes the sensitivity beneath the surface in fragile layers. “Closure” brings us to Perfect Light's ending with serene acoustic guitar, soft melodies and a subtle hiss of the recording being left to add warmth and depth. The album spans a rich palette of emotional upheaval and ends on somewhat of a hopeful note in its final lyric–"If you were here to ask me what I now believe, I’d say, 'life can never be held but only lived,'" which shows the development of our narrator from heartbroken to optimistic. Time will tell just how bright the future will be, but for now, we can say it is less overcast than before.
Perfect Light releases January 21st via Svart Records.