bvdub: Born In Tokyo

bvdub & loscil: Erebus
Glacial Movements Records

Listeners who've been tracking the evolution of Brock Van Wey's bvdub project since its first releases appeared in 2007 will know that in recent times it's grown into an at times thunderous music characterized by extroversion, exuberance, and ecstasy. Carrying on the style of recent albums such as All is Forgiven (n5MD, 2012), Serenity (Darla, 2012), and A Careful Ecstasy (Darla, 2013), Van Wey's twentieth bvdub album, Born In Tokyo, finds his music reaching an ever greater degree of refinement and, if possible, evidencing an even greater emotional charge than before. Piano-based passages characterized by melancholy and wistfulness alternate with supercharged, beat-driven episodes in six long-form tracks, all of which—true to bvdub form—push past the ten-minute mark. The presence of Sirens-esque female singing during the exuberant sequences lends the material an ecstatic deep house vibe that, especially when the transporting sound design swells into a dense, hyperventilated blur, begins to seem like Van Wey's highly individualized take on trance.

Any doubt about bvdub in its current incarnation being epic in pitch and tone is dispelled four minutes into “I'm Coming Home (From The Sky)” when the music explodes in an ecstatic swirl of beats, vocals, and keyboards—which isn't to suggest that Van Wey's music has lost any of its trademark grace and beauty in the process, as proven by the piano-laden sequence following that detonation. The album reaches its melodic peak in “We Love Together (It's Our World)” when male and female singers, buoyed by a thrumming funk-house groove, seduce the listener with impassioned outpourings, while the plaintive “Two Hours To Forever (Just Ask Me I'll Stay)” shows that the bvdub sound remains as heartfelt as ever—even if a pounding funk pattern adds a powerful kick to it at the seven-minute mark.

As always, some degree of mystery attends the recording given that the sole production detail provided is that the music was written and produced by the Shaoxing, China-based producer and that Jenny Mayhem contributed additional vocals to the fourth piece, “We Love Together (It's Our World).” The listener is left to ponder where the other vocals (male and female) originated from and exactly how Van Wey goes about constructing his material and the instruments and gear he uses to do so (drum programming and keyboards clearly constitute part of it). Some might ask why the ultra-prolific Van Wey releases as much material as he does, but, while the question isn't an illegitimate one, it's a separate issue from an assessment of the recording on its own terms. In that regard, bvdub fans will no doubt find the new release to be as satisfying as the ones that came before it.

And though he typically works solo, Van Wey isn't averse to collaborating with others, as attested to by his Glacial Movements set with loscil (Vancouverite Scott Morgan). Admittedly, a sense of inevitability surrounds the release: one wonders how it's possible that bvdub and loscil haven't collaborated before, given that their union seems so inevitable. Of course, the first thing the listener coming to the release wonders is whether the music situates itself midway between the two creators' styles or leans in a particular direction. That is, will Erebus perpetuate the ecstatic style of Born In Tokyo or be in the more understated soundscaping style of loscil's kranky albums? It turns out that Erebus appears at first glance to lean more in the direction of a bvdub release, given that it features five long tracks—one even twenty-four minutes in duration—that are grandiose in character. However, Erebus not only eschews beats but also suggests loscil's influence in the album's focus on an ambient scene-painting style. In other words, the recording intimates that through his involvement Morgan has tempered Van Wey's impulses, resulting in an album that's more a hybridization of their styles.

The epic character of the material is reinforced by track titles that possess mythological resonance—“Hespiredes,” “Hypnos,” and so on—as well as accompanying quotes from Milton's Paradise Lost and Hesiod's Theogony. In addition, as a mythological figure Erebus is said to personify darkness, with Hesiod identifying him as born from Chaos, whereas Greek literature uses the name to refer to the area in the underworld where the dead pass immediately upon dying (that association is explicitly referenced by the track title “Thanatos,” a Freudian psychology term for the death instinct).

The tone is set by the heavenly wordless choirs of “Aether” that build to a near-deafening, bvdub-styled pitch before an abrupt deflation leads into “Hespiredes,” a slow-motion meditation whose waves of supplicating voices likewise swell to an immense, unearthly wall-of-sound. The supplicating tone continues on into “Hypnos” when it opens with a male singer's yearning voice and then blossoms further when other voices, these ululating, join the first, resulting in an hypnotic vocal round that, augmented by instrumental forces, gradually expands into a vaporous cloud formation. Celestial in character, a typical Erebus setting cycles through multiple rise-and-fall episodes, and the material often suggests what it might be like to hear classical singers' amplified voices reverberating within a huge cathedral space. Like Born In Tokyo, Erebus provides few details about how the music was created and the instrumentation involved (though guitar and piano appear to be part of the mix), so the listener is left once more to experience the music on purely listening grounds without becoming sidetracked by production details.

November 2013