A void can refer to numerous things but more often than not when the word itself comes up in music it’s used to put forth a huge feeling of emptiness brought on by the sheer pain a lost love has caused someone. Of course its meaning can go further than a literal or metaphorical empty space but chances are there will always be this stereotypical image with the majority of listeners. Albert DesSophy seems to have fallen into such a space and with his album Across The Void he intends to take the listener along for the ride.
From silence comes clean throbbing beats and pulses creating an ominous atmosphere. Opening song “Rising Pulse” is an instrumental song free of any organic elements such as real instruments or voice, like a machine losing its temper. It becomes clear right from the start we’re thrown into the middle of the void instead of DesSophy leading us cautiously in. But being a song spun around the noise of a slightly echoing heart monitor it makes you wonder how literal you’re meant to take this entrance. Throughout the album we’re given loose phrases recounting terrible accidents and acts of violence making me wonder if this could be considered a new genre: “coma music.”
Considering the only familiarity I had with Albert DesSophy before hearing this album was his acoustic contribution to the underrated A Tease From Loophole compilation earlier this year, hearing him wallowing around in hollow beats and electronics is a little bit of a left turn. But any doubt you harbour in your mind about the switch in styles is soon dispersed as he creates finely tuned atmospheres with resonating beats and canned strings that bring a sort of sad beauty to the cold surroundings. Of course there are literal human elements to the album – guitar and voice are the main ones – and these help keep it from drowning in recurring similar sounds.
That said the organic elements might not exactly draw an added group of listeners in. The clean computer elements against the hiss of the microphones recording the vocals and the guitars doesn’t always combine as smoothly as hoped but again this becomes of little problems as if one side of a song wanes the other side is there to back it up. On a few occasions the hiss can even sound like an unsettling part of the bottomless void such as on the jittering backdrop to “Void” where the guitar plays a sort of muffled funk against the forceful charging beats. At other times the guitar is doing too much to care about the level of hiss such as the thrashing rhythm on “The Well” or the deranged Zeppelin-like solo at the end of “Wall of Fears.” With “The Well” it’s just a shame this guy doesn’t have the benefit a studio clean sound for his guitar playing as it would likely come across as a whole lot more vicious if it matched the power of the insistent beat running through the core of the song.
This goes too for DesSophy’s voice which can get lost in its lo-fi muffle. When you get your first taste of it on “Void” it sounds distant and inconsistent but as the album progresses it seems to get clearer and more focused despite the lyrical content sounding more damaging for him to get out. Oddly though I prefer him when he keeps his surroundings minimal allowing his muffled voice to be heard more clearly instead of trying his best to get it above the hazy cloud of instrumentation. On “No Change” his defeated singing about his dissatisfaction regarding Obama’s time in power is kind of beautiful even though you can hear him right up against the microphone sounding like he’s trying to keep it together. On the patient “No Rainbows” he doesn’t quite pull of the blues-style wailing he aims for but this doesn’t mean the vocal cadence isn’t satisfying.
But as said, even when his voice is unclear or his phrasing gets muddled the music is always there to back him up. “Wall of Fears” begins teasingly and it doesn’t disappoint as it throws in the heavy synths and chattering hi-hat sounds making it sound like some unused soundtrack to a fight scene from The Matrix. From its dying rush it takes a jump into more acoustic territory as a ticking guitar rhythm drives along the aforementioned slower “No Change.” The jump between tracks is golden but as the latter track goes on a subtle synth line echoing the guitar rhythm seeps into the song as DesSophy sings his loudest note. It’s touches like this and others like the wiggling bass line in the second half of “The Well” that make the album worth hearing on headphones. But hearing it carefully also allows you to sink into the tiny differences I’ve described on the album and perhaps get a little too carried away with the journey through the void.
In a place where there should technically be nothing, DesSophy offers us something strangely engrossing. The lo-fi elements will drive a few away but that’s their own loss from their own high standards. Many others will also jump straight to comparing this with Radiohead but the similarities are more a sort of tribute and a charming thank you to the band than merely a copycat imitation. The settling tone at the end of “Void” sounds like something right from the noise catalogue of Kid A while the luscious strings on the likes so “The Wings of Light” and “Light Angel” echo the compositions of Johnny Greenwood. Heck even Thom Yorke gets name-dropped on “No Change.” Releasing an album with a track called “No Rainbows” on the same date as Kid A was a decade ago, DesSophy is hardly being coy about his main influence for the album.
But as much influence as he may appear to take from the Oxfordshire band, it still feels like something of his own and something he should rest content with even if he is still fighting with the problems he talks about on the album (uncaring and vicious past loves mainly). Come the last track on the album, “The Right (Wrong) Time,” DesSophy ditches the beats and floats about in atmospherics and guitars instead. It sounds more cathartic than anything else, unfortunately not grabbing the listener’s attention in quite the same way as other tracks on the album do. However, considering we might have been thrown right into the metaphorical void it’s not exactly correct then to assume we’d find a safe place to exit. Instead DesSophy sounds like he might well be lingering here for a little while and if he continues to create as well as he does in this desolate place then I’ll be happy to dive in again to see what else he has to offer.