I Feel at Home in the Isolation of Wrekmeister Harmonies' New Album
The experimental doom/drone duo's new LP was created in isolation, and makes me homesick for the once-familiar sound of silence.
Wrekmeister Harmonies’ new album, The Alone Rush, reached a place in me that I generally leave untended for fear of what I’ll find lurking in its shadows. The six long, languorous compositions nestle beneath a Gothic cross at a junction of doom, drone, post-rock, and ambient, and unfold slowly, leaving acres of space between rain-slick strings, celestial keys, swooping dissonance, and each of vocalist JR Robinson’s stately baritone breaths.
It weaponizes quiet, embracing the introspection and absolution that have themed the project—which has long featured a rotating cast of members, but is now stripped down to a duo and rounded out by Esther Shaw—since they first embarked on their long, strange trip almost a decade ago. Its edges feel rough, and raw, with a certain wildness about them; this is beautiful music, to be sure, but it has come to us from a place of pain.
To me, The Alone Rush—which is out April 13 via Thrill Jockey—sounds like home. Not literally, because “home” for me sounds mostly like yelling and fuzzy Southern rock and tinny FOX News broadcasts, but more what it sounds like when I clear away all the static, and walk outside, and really think about the word’s meaning. To me, home means isolation, and that’s the dominant theme underpinning Robinson and Shaw’s entire endeavor.
The album was composed in a secluded Oregon forest that probably looks a lot like where I grew up, and its only outside influence—provided by guest drummer Thor Harris of Swans acclaim—made his contributions while burdened with unspoken familial grief, something with which I also have an unfortunate amount of experience. It positively smolders, burning bright and slow like the forest fires that almost swallowed up our house when I was small.
It was this visceral, familiar, yet understated darkness that truly pulled me under The Alone Rush’s spell. My family and the rural, wooded area where we’ve planted our roots have both suffered greatly, and those collected hardships reflect on the ways we interact with one another and with the outside world. No one from my village—yes, village; we were upgraded from “unincorporated” in 2014—ever really leaves, whether it’s because they don’t want to, or they can’t, or because the drugs or depression get to them first. We’ve all got scars somewhere. The pipelines my father, with his aching back and sun-leathered arms, will soon be compelled to help build through his beloved wilderness in service of capitalism and sustenance are just the latest set of wounds to score us deep.
Isolation is a double-edged sword—with peace and solitude comes ignorance and fear, and even after 12 years of living away from our little one-story house tucked way back in the Pine Barrens, I’m still discovering the ways it has shaped me. Hatred and distrust of civilization are things that were instilled in me from birth (which is of course why a rebellious child like me ended up living in a city once I was old enough to venture out on my own).
The prevailing wisdom was that you can’t trust city folk. In a place where keeping to oneself is a virtue, the trees provided a welcome buffer to unwelcome influences—whether that just meant the amorphous concept of “the city,” or something uglier in an area that’s still 98 percent white. Our natural barriers keep the outside world out, but they keep us in, too. People move there for the quiet, and the beauty, and stay there because, well, where else would they go?
The older I get, the more I welcome silence, and the more I miss it. I’ve adjusted to its absence, but cramming into a ground-floor apartment at the far end of Bushwick on a block with three rambunctious new hipster bars, paper-thin walls, and a constant stream of local traffic is no life for a girl who grew up with only whispering pines and whistling whippoorwills to break the stillness.
I have my own reasons for staying here, of course, but something in me still gives a painful twinge whenever I think about going back. For so many of us who find ourselves occupying the uncomfortable role of “the one who Got Out,” there’s a heavy, lingering sense of betrayal to internalize; you got out, and hopefully improved your lot in life, but at what price?
These are the kind of questions swirling through my head as I near The Alone Rush’s end. Forest silence is a particular sort of sound, in that it sounds like death and living at the same time—the faraway howls, crunching leaves, chirping insects, and birdsong all swirl and fade into a kind of white noise that stops feeling like noise at all once you’ve grown into it. I can feel echoes of that not-sound in this album, born as it was beneath red alders and Douglas firs, and it’s calling me home. Maybe I’ll finally listen this time.
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey and is on Twitter.