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Dear Banshee invite you into their haunted sonic funhouse on Wake of Modern Life

Dear Banshee invite you into their haunted sonic funhouse on Wake of Modern Life


 Dear Banshee don’t want you to know the origin of their name—in fact it’s a running joke inside the band to assiduously avoid doing so even tho' they often get asked to—and hey I don't blame them…

…seeing as the Bay Area collective make music that's been described as “haunting, hypnotizing, mesmerizing, lush, moody, introspective, and dreamlike” which are all words used in a single recent review of “Rehoboam” and not wrongly either, the lead-off single to the band's sophomore album Wake of Modern Life (check out the video above directed by bDwS made entirely with recycled/repurposed materials which we’ll soon see is a fitting visual correlate to this record) and there’s no better way to undercut the “haunting” quality of something than by trying to logically explain it which is basically what happens at the end of every M. Night Shyamalan movie and every episode of Scooby Doo

…but imagine if every episode of Scooby Doo ended not with unmasking the villain of the week (e.g., a booty-seeking “ghost pirate” revealed to be the leader of an international smuggling ring) but instead with Scooby, Shaggy and the whole Mystery Machine gang getting sucked into an existential vortex of pure light and energy like the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey and then you’d have something much closer to Wake of Modern Life which was released one week ago today...

The dark days are here again
Mother, we are survivors
We're in this together — “White Lies”

……an album that’s equal parts introspective and otherworldly, but at the same it feels very much of its time and place as in 2023: A Dystopian Odyssey (does the titular “wake” refer to a slipstream or a funeral or an awakening? who knows!) and here’s another advantage of bands being unwilling to over-explain their work and that’s the freedom it gives critics and other commentators to rely on pure, rampant speculation which regular readers of this column must know is something of a hobby...

…and so when it comes to the band’s name I’m gonna go ahead and speculate that Dear Banshee was chosen as their moniker as a reference to’ “Dear Prudence” as covered by Siouxsie and the Banshees seeing as the Beatles’ cover serves as a fitting encapsulation of the Dear Banshee’s lush, ornate Baroque pop wedded to introspective lyrics overlain with a layer of gothy, black mascara laced darkness with more than a tinge of psychedelia thrown in for good measure and ahhhh there's a good San Fran connection

…tho’ I certainly don’t mean to give the impression that Dear Banshee are taciturn or withholding cuz to the contrary the band’s two co-lead-singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalists James Lucas and Chelsea Wilde are warm and engaging in conversation and were more than willing to talk on the phone for nearly an hour and share some interesting tidbits about the album and some of its specific tracks such as opener “One Last Sign” which quite effectively sets the overall tenor for Wake of Modern Life

In the wake of modern life / reflections are all I see
A copy of a copy / turn around
Is it one last breath or one last sigh? — “One Last Sigh”

…and when I suggest that Wake of Modern Life is very much a “headphone album” given its exquisite production and sonic detail, interweaving a rich array of timbres and textures, James gamely co-signs the idea going on to describe the record as “bedroom rave” which even if he made this up right on the spot it totally makes sense to me as applied to someone who’s spanned styles and formats from punk rock to jazz (fact: James’ father used to play clarinet in a jazz ensemble and contributes one and the same to “Greed”) to bedroom alt-pop to an entire phase spent as a drum ’n’ bass DJ…

…going on to explain that in contrast to their more guitar-heavy first album “I always wanted to start an album with just electronic stuff” which makes sense given his penchant for artists spanning the spectrum from Aphex Twin's twisty, oft-ambient “intelligent dance music” to the glitchy electro-industrial “thrash-hop” of Death Grips and indeed “One Last Sigh” reminds me of a Xerox machine spitting out “copies of a copy” in a cut-and-paste collage of diverse influences until the ink cartridge explodes that is and smudges then all together into a blurry Rorschach test… 

…which isn’t the worst metaphor for how Wake of Modern Life was assembled, or for “One Last Sign” in particular with its herky-jerky drum programming sounding like it was dubbed from a 20th-generation cassette (Dear Banshee are self admitted gearheads and may or may not have purchased digital instruments from music stores, ripped all the sounds, then returned them) soon joined by a squelchy melody formed from fragments of guitar played by Chelsea, later cut up and fed through various filters by James in a recycling/repurposing process (Chelsea: “The first time I heard the track I didn’t know what to expect. I’d done bits and pieces of guitar work but hadn’t heard it all put together”)…

…with vocal lines traded back and forth between the two, then sung in harmony, then stacked layer-upon-layer into ambient washes of sound—a technique suggested by Chelsea and largely borrowed from her own musical project Minor Birds (FFO: Marissa Nadler, Chelsea Wolfe) and it’s worth noting here that Chelsea is a relatively new addition to Dear Banshee and that she’s got a penchant for the doomier side of the musical spectrum (e.g., Idles, All Them Witches) not to mention being formally training in classical piano from early childhood which brings a literal Baroque influence into play (James: “She’ll look at me and make a little smirk when she’s playing Bach or something”) and oh yeah you may have noticed both of them are skilled multi-instrumentalists…

…so you never know who’s playing guitar vs. piano vs. some other instrument on this record (not to mention how fluidly their voices mesh together at times) all woven into the fabric of a song like “One Last Sigh” which ultimately builds up and then unravels into a tangled heap of burbling keyboard arpeggios (can’t help but think of Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump here) and massed voices and strings (Karina Garrett plays viola on the track and contributes string parts across the album) and who knows what else into a glitched-out-sonic-vortex-wall-of-sound which is pretty fitting for a song that appears to be about the very process of unravelling itself…

Quiet and still inside / phantoms are my only friends
Maybe we'll all go out again / empty streets seem so calm
Uneasy thoughts slide down the walls — “Phantoms (So Much Time)”

…on an album that’s very much a product of the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant unravelling both thematically (C: “I feel like a lot of these lyrics are reflective or what we were dealing with the pandemic. We both got Covid during rehearsals. We spent two years recording. It really took a toll on us.”) and structurally (J: “We worked on the album in two phases. The first was working on the songs in live band rehearsals, getting the spines of the songs down, the vocal melodies especially. The second phase was composing on computers and piecing songs together that way. Chelsea and I figured out entire segments of songs as we were recording them”)…

…a creative process that, however painstaking, appears to suit the duo well now that ever since peak pandemic has come to revolve around the central axis of James and Chelsea especially given the fairly regular turnover among the other three members of the band—James clearly knows many proficient Bay Area players—who come and go depending upon availability and the vagaries of life as a musician overall…

…with James describing his working method as fairly meticulous (J: “It’s kind of like a science experience but if you didn’t go school for science”) while Chelsea is more inclined to “rolling with the punches” and “go with the flow” and improvise where needed (C: “99 percent of what I love about music is playing live. I knock things out in one take cuz I hate the studio”) resulting in a multi-layered, existential vortex whose sonics range from the sweeping piano-based indie rock balladry of “White Lies” culminating in a yearning string-laden coda to the neo-psychedelic of “In the Moment” with its airy Mellotron and twinkling guitar and warm synth tones so go check it out, yo… (Jason Lee)

Published: May 12, 2023 |

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