And they all prophesised that silence would be the way forward! Certainly in the case of The XX and then James Blake, who both breathe a cold sense of anxiousness, even as they simultaneously radiate a warm empathy. Never have contemporary artists encompassed the Depeche Mode classic so truly.
Psychologist’s (real name Iain Woods) story is not so different from Blake’s. As with Blake and his St Pancras show, Woods has played in churches, opting to create that enveloping atmosphere of unnerving chill. As Blake’s earlier material was a far cry from his debut, so was Woods's recent material, recently releasing a collection of dub step tunes released through MySpace. Waves of OK however may take you out of your comfort zone and scaring the living shit out of you, embracing the same silence that Blake’s music does in a calculating fashion, using it to build the tension. Using this to his advantage, Woods' music often wanders, leaving you to question what his next moves are. When you least expect it, he unleashes his eccentricities.
Despite the suggestion of the title, Woods's psychological state seems far from OK. From the opening minute of ‘Together Clinging,’ there’s a sense of foreboding as the short answerphone cries strike you in alarmed surprise. You know something’s going to happen, but when? Boom, the increasingly juxtaposed wails - not quite angelic, yet not quite devilish - signify that Woods is perhaps a bit of a strange chap. Eno-esque pads glimmer in a light of optimism, hinting at an aspirational sense of hope. But whilst it was obtainable with Eno’s assured tone, the quaking bass eclipse any chance that Woods has at accomplishing it. It’s heavenly and hellish all at once, It’d be nice to leave it there, if it weren’t for ‘Comes in Waves,’ the most accessible song on the record. It’s a gorgeous medley of soulful request as Woods gently pleads: “Take me out of my depth /Make me tread water /Get out of breath /And ward off my death”. It is perhaps the most representative of the title of the album, pianos slowly trickling along in a gentle flowing channel of tranquillity. It’s Woods at his most lucid. But that peace is disturbed by ‘Untitled (A Possession),’ an isolated and desolate howl-a-thon in which this time, we imagine Woods finally being lost in a sea of his own shattered mind. Whilst Blake’s android-like textures added an element of distancing inhumanity, Woods shows that he has a much more human side, whilst embracing those same unnatural tones.
In that sense, the ambiguous nature of the tracks highlight frailties that can still arise from their comforting sense of warmth. On that note, Wood leaves us with ‘A Song to the Siren,’ a funeral march of a song where his dramatic and solemn register dominates again. It’s not quite the low baritone that, say, an Antony Hegarty possesses, but does exhibit a similar insecure sense of fragility as it gets weightlessly lifted off by the hymns of pall bearers aside. In the end, it tails off with a mix of white noise and feedback. Has Woods finally found peace and tranquillity? It’s this ambiguous nature that dominates the EP and makes it such a curiously wonderful enigma throughout. Waves of OK is more than just OK.
8Alex Yau's Score