If As Light As Light is a prayer, “Hymn 1” is the prayer-within-a-prayer that it may be acceptable to You. “Let me get hold of something greater,” croons Andrew Aged to someone or other, the center he addresses dilating and contracting to span the liquid stream uniting self-consciousness with consciousness of another and of everything. In lieu of a clear idea of God or the self, As Light As Light achieves intimacy with the beams of light and fluid connecting them. “I have fears, I have fallen, and I’ve lost my way back home,” Andrew sings on “Without Water,” a standout among the water-metaphor tracks, reminding us of the real reasons we wonder, pray, and sing. “But I’ve never had to wonder about the love you’ve shown.”
I was really deeply endeared to this band, once known simply as “inc.,” by their 2013 album, no world. I applied to write for TMT partly because I liked Jakob Dorof’s review of it. Anyone familiar with it also knows its austere vocabulary of clean riffs, crisp hits, and koan-like whispers, stylish and temporary like the porous clouds on the sleeve, its tone meditative and magnetic. It’s mixed with incredible balance and a fairly limited palette of sound sources, as if by a benzo’d out Timbaland. Upon repeat listens, no world didn’t just “hold up” but always greeted and challenged us in a completely new way, like a living friend. Its presence, though, didn’t feel quite so real, each bar seeming to slip immediately back into nothing.
Their heads backlit by the diffuse sky on the cover of that record, the Aged brothers, now calling themselves “inc. no world,” have emerged on their sophomore sleeve from the dark ground onto a sunny patch of stairs. Something about it is altogether less feverish and obscure than before, as if in greater proximity to the light. But sophomoric opening is a comforting myth; Jakob was right to point out that, taking gospel and the long history of R&B as its point of departure, no world ended up someplace we strongly felt no one had gone before. By no means does As Light As Light make the sort of retreat from the periphery of its idiom one might think of when I remark that its songs are brighter, catchier, and in many places even simpler than those of its stark predecessor, even if all of those things are true and the album covers convey a decent metaphor after all. The band now called inc. no world (I’m trying to embrace the punctuational awkwardness, an appropriate gesture corresponding to a confusing and apophatic duo, and hold off on the scare quotes) are still as effervescent and elusive as inc., though some of the dark and the ineffable about them has hardened under the light of a new outlook.
Take “The Wheel” and “For the Leaves,” two big songs incorporating the kind of unhinged jamming on a homey, unmoving blues-country progression that no world seemed almost ascetically to avoid. The formal tensions underlying the mix of contrasting inheritances from R&B history are finally emphasized and channelled into a dramatic force, giving As Light As Light a feeling of energy and adventure. It both honors and confounds its influences. The soft unfolding of restless verse and spindly cages of drums that housed the band’s previous songs are still here — on single “Waters of You,” the “Hymn” tracks, and “Your Waking Heart,” for example — but placed in a new context alongside emphatic concessions to rock and gospel, as well as the imagistic folklore of the American West that so often got cast over stories about the band’s halcyon days learning to gig in shitty rock bars. “In Love,” on that note, is the closest thing to a pure country-pop song we can still recognize as theirs.
The most important way in which As Light As Light sounds different from the duo’s previous work is in its hymn-like attention to resolution and harmony, in many places preferring simple progressions with ambient resonance to the tense and elaborate movements of melody that gave no world its distant character. I had to listen to “In Your Beauty” at least three times before it didn’t hit the same register as a Sigur Rós or a Radiohead, evoking meditative alternative rock with a genuine shallowness. While a less discriminating approach to sound design is partially to blame, I have to admit that I also find the songwriting rather boring at times, and that Andrew’s voice often works better as a texture than a text. In their worst moments, inc. no world could be just a Maxwell’d-out, fake-deep indie rock band, masking incredibly simple love songs and devotionals with a lot of silk, liquid smoke, and rimhit samples. At their best, though, they’ve attached a religious intensity to inc.’s forlorn aesthetic, giving vibes their requisite voice. Wanting in a thematic richness I expected, As Light As Light feels at least more like a presence than a disappearance.