Label: Cloister Recordings
Although they have a strong record for this kind of thing, it’s not absurd to suggest that Angels may be the saddest, most downbeat recording either Matt Finney or Maurice De Jong have put their names to. The duo, operating under the It Only Gets Worse moniker, have several records of bleak, depressing, yet beautiful music in their discography, but Angels is perhaps the most affecting of them all. There’s no denying the gorgeous nature of the soundscapes Maurice conjures, but when wedded to Matt’s spoken word sections, it all takes on a much darker tone, dealing with themes of loss, love, and treason.
There’s the potential with music like this for the different elements to be too stark in their contrast, for the beauty of the music to undermine the darkness of the vocals or vice versa. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Whilst the waves of synth and melodies that form the majority of the sounds of Angels are undeniably glorious, the inclusion of some darker tones and progressions means that the atmosphere never becomes too comfortable. Third track “Anna” is a prime example, with the way the melodies shift in unsettling ways adding an extra sense of malice and darkness to what could otherwise be a gloriously bright track. And then when Matt’s vocals kick in, slightly mumbled and buried in the production so that their tone is clear even if the actual words aren’t always, it underlines the uncomfortable nature of the record.
There are times when the anxiety that bubbles under the surface comes to the fore, though. “Floral Print” is characterized by stuttering rhythms and wavering synths, like some combination of high-tempo glitch and dark ambient. It’s the sound of raw panic that can’t find proper release, pushed and pulled to the point of collapse; and yet, there’s still something deeply beautiful and appealing in there, with some of the melodies in the last third of the song being absolutely wonderful. Angels, as a whole, is very strong, but this track is a particular highlight.
Nor is it a one-off. “Memories” follows a similar route, mixing anxiety with absolute grace, and even adds what sounds to these ears like a little chiptune influence in to things. That uncomfortable tension still persists though, as if taunting the listener – “yes, you may feel happy now, but what about tomorrow? Next month? In a year?” – and it’s this duality that really helps make Angels such a strong listen. The light enhances the dark, and vice versa.
This may all sound like a potentially difficult listen, and whilst there’s no denying that it is incredibly affecting, that’s not to say that it’s inaccessible or an inherent downer. The atmosphere of Angels is one that pulls the listener in without fail, and the melodies and spoken words ensure there is always something for the listener to latch on to, even when the music is otherwise at its most belligerent and difficult. There’s also a sense of catharsis at the end, of trials confronted and – if not necessarily conquered – then at least placed behind you, for now.
As is hopefully clear from the above, Angels is a record I think very highly of. I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy well in advance of its release, and I’ve spent many an evening losing myself in its charms and misery. Matt’s spoken word sections really help give the music that extra human element which this style is so often lacking, though the music is incredibly strong on its own merits. It draws from a vast pool of influences, making me think of all different kinds of musicians at different points (including Bohren And Der Club Of Gore; the original Ghost In The Shell soundtrack; Nobukazu Takemura; and countless Warp, Tigerbeat6, and Planet Mu IDM/glitch artists from around the turn of the millennium). Whether these are accurate is kind of irrelevant; instead, it illustrates just how diverse and ambitious Angels is. That it all comes together in a unified, relatively accessible whole is utterly remarkable. That it does so whilst still possessing incredible emotional impact raises it in to the realms of the superlative.