“Wasteland.” The word itself evokes a specific set of images, and beyond that – a feeling. When I think of that word, I think of vast emptiness. I imagine a world, dry and lifeless, slowly crumbling in a fine chalk under the relentless sun. The sound of such a world ought to echo across barren horizons; it ought to illustrate the forlorn and hopeless dimensions of a place devoid of human life, or devoid of humanity.
Light Veins, from Australia, achieves this feeling and portrays it with patient conviction. Slow, rumbling ambient passages fill the sky as guitar and drums plot out a course through Wasteland. In parts, the EP is menacingly quiet as though plotting to erupt. And while the “emptiness” and “darkness” of it all sounds discouraging or pointless, Light Veins’ portrayal of these feelings is compelling and, oddly, satisfying.
The EP opens with “Prologue” mid guitar tone, as though interrupting a pre-existing train of thought. It is as though this place had been here long before the listener arrived, waiting for eons. Even within the short span of the song, there’s a progression from the lowly, reflective bass and guitar into a strange, gnarled metallic swell.
It immediately sends us out into the low, rumbling wind of a charred plateau – the title track, “Wasteland.” The sky is red, fragmented by a black lacework of clouds. The ground is hard, hot underneath our feet. The sun is a distant white circle, muted and obscured, subjugating all below with its repressive heat. A sudden flash of rock metal drums, chugging with verve alongside the guitar, comes and goes. The rest of the song finds a more tenable pace, feet slowly climbing over jagged ridges and down into crumbling ravines.
When you pass through the droning ambience of the EP to the heart of each song, there is a passing-resemblance to other post-rock. But Light Veins is far darker than Mogwai, more selective and restrained in its sonic palette. This is a welcome restraint. With recorded music, the possibilities are endless, and Light Veins’ ability to commit to a sound, or a feeling, or the elaborate construction of an environment is not compromised by a misled desire to incorporate lots of variety. Some records are, in my estimation, supposed to be complete listening experiences, and Wasteland is one of them.
That being said: it’s not all gloomy, sluggish soundscapes and morose tinkering. Some of the sounds are thought-provoking, like the dial-up connection sample at the end of “Absence.” On the heels of “Wasteland,” “Absence” might be a little too slow for it’s placement on the EP, but it is still quite beautiful in its own understated way and a worthy stretch of the overall journey.
“Absence” feels like wandering through a deserted city at dusk. Shadows fall across unpopulated plazas. Wind pushes great clouds of dust down the funnel of an alleyway. We come across a building and step inside. In the corner of the room there sits a computer terminal, covered in the dust of an age. But the damn thing is still on, the screen asleep. We disturb it, and it tries to make a network connection. It’s all for naught; there’s nothing out there left to connect to.
However, our stop-off in the dead city wasn’t fruitless. Armed with foresight, like a long-range “Looking Glass,” we can see ahead, out past the city, where our journey continues. The song rocks: it drives you, forging ahead with powerful, rolling drums. Guitars erupt with fire, blistering and hard-edged. The pinched guitar tone at two minutes-twenty three second is an excellent and subtle way to change things up before diving right back into the wild, thrashing of the song’s battle-scene climax. These kinds of details in the production, the care and inventiveness with which they were authored, is the underlying magic of the EP.
“Epilogue,” though predominantly a drone besieged by the sound of pouring rain, is lovely and refreshing. We’ve exited the Wasteland; we’ve left the mid-day darkness of an unforgiving hellscape – in all of it’s panoramic glory – for the benevolent calm and spiritual salve of cool, insistent rain. And for the first time, a piano is introduced to the palette of sounds. It plays a simple, delicate sequence of notes underneath a spoken-word sample of a man pontificating on the essence of virtue, taking a direct cue from the Tao Te Ching on “higher” and “lower” forms of virtue. Real virtue is staying alive.
The Tao Te Ching also says something I found appropriate in the consideration of this record and my personal experience of it: “Tao is an empty vessel; yet its use is inexhaustible.” This conundrum is precisely why I like Light Veins’ Wasteland: it was just a series of recordings that were smartly written enough to accommodate the listener’s own imagination. The openness of the record, fenced in only once or twice by defiant samples with no specific context, is exciting – not boring. I could have written out a hundred or more different experiences from this record, for its use is truly inexhaustible.
Despite the flat, overly compressed drum mixing and compression, this record sounds very good. The guitars take on a number of tones and characterizations. Noise samples and loops are used sparingly, tastefully. Each composition has its own soul – its own ingrained human weight and truth. Wasteland is dark and wondrous – both crushing and uplifting – and no matter what sort of journey you seek inside of it, you’ll want to revisit it again and again.