Towards the Shadow
[Northern Spy; 2018]
On their third studio album Towards the Shadow, Baltimore dream machine Wume parse the intersections of technology and the human condition, leavening their ideas with an inimitable collection of kosmic futurist soundscapes. Gardens are corralled by manmade walls. Daily modern existence is mostly just a work/commute/sleep cycle. Monotony is groove. Voice is consternation. Hospitals are assailable. Nature is irascible. Architecture is fallible. Organic life is limitation. Literature is music. Herbert Marcuse is lyrics. Shadow is self. Industry is art. The Unknown is truth. Form is safety. Structure is entrapment. Electricity is spirit. Percussion is heartbeat. Metronome is life force. Labor is alienation (duh). Libido is pain. Restraint is sex. Materials are virtue. Value is illusory.
Like the Krautrock bands they model themselves after, April Camlin and Albert Schatz have misgivings about the future. Camlin’s monotone vocals mimic your laptop’s text-to-speech system, suggesting an uncomfortable confluence between natural and artificial intelligence. “What is wall?” she inquires on album opener “Walled Garden,” her voice forcing uneasy spaces between each word. Coupled with the track’s nervous ringing and ominous synthesizers, these vocals offer a grim depiction of dissociation in the age of the “online self.” A willful capitulation to computers is dangerous, the duo assert, and persisting throughout Camlin’s vocals, on Shadows, is a sense of nervousness over an imminent cyborg future.
But this record isn’t just doom-and-gloom alarmism. Although Camlin’s vocals are unimpeachably impactful, exploring the dysphoria of being alive in this current technological era, they’re overall sparse. Her drumming is a far more present force, as are Schatz’s energetic keyboards. Wume summon a unique kind of energy here on Towards the Shadow, one that revels in the repetitiveness of old masters like NEU! and Kraftwerk, but that also gathers momentum in its calculated repetition to swell to something truly gratifying. Just listen to the climaxes of “Ravel” or the rise and fall of “Pool of Light.” Jubilation rivals panic as the band stokes our id while worrying the ego; Wume pit the cold, stolid realities of 21st-century life against our innate desire for rhythm and movement. And the latter usually wins out.
Facebook is mining our profiles for data. We’re being spied on through our laptop cameras. The Singularity sounds increasingly plausible. But whatever. Let’s dance.