Richard Wileman’s 2020 album, ‘Arcana’ was a melodic yet unnerving gothic treat, with a Hammer Horror, Wicker Man vibe. This new offering continues in a similar vein, a collaboration with Matt Baber of Sanguine Hum. They had previously worked together in 2011, on a track (Mondo Profondo 1) for Wileman’s earlier incarnation, Karda Estra. This re-meeting of minds was meant to just be one or two tracks but the sessions proved fruitful enough for an album.
The first two seconds of short opening track, ‘FOUR’ are eerily evocative of the beginning of OMD’s ‘Maid of Orleans’, but that’s just a trick of the light on my part I imagine, as it quickly slides into equally eerie dissonant piano (though it is followed by a song called ‘Souvenir’!)
Said second track is more hallmark Richard Wileman territory, acoustic guitar, piano, harmonies and lush arrangements. ‘Mondo Profondo 4’ I assume continues where its predecessors left off, a brooding atmospheric piece that’s lifted mid-way by an unobtrusive not quite incongruent drum machine. Shimmering keyboards throw in stabs of foreboding over a piano arpeggio, evoking incidental music from weird 70s kids TV (the kind that damaged a generation in all the right ways) before elevating things to Floydian heights. A guitar solo joins in the heady mellotron soup to add to the vertigo-inducing blissful finale.
Track four, the perversely named ‘THREE – audio slow’ is another brief interlude, a piano/keyboard duet, followed by ‘Emperor’, a song which showcases the two protagonists’ individual styles. Busy florid orante piano from Baber, and Wileman’s gothic arrangements (though anyone who’s ever collaborated on anything will concede that in the final outcome, it’s nigh on impossible to define where one person’s influence ends and the other begins). Amy Fry, long-time vocals and clarinet cohort also adds her ethereal touch in the mix.
On ‘Passing Wave’, things get busier and then some. Jazz-fusion drums do battle with a frantic synth arpeggio, as slabs of reverb-drenched chords whizz by, as if teleported in by The Orb with a slice of 1976 Weather Report at Montreaux Jazz Festival.
Thinks calm down a tad with ‘2009’, wistful baroque melodies gambol as Baber’s piano does the heavy lifting, calling to mind Ryuichi Sakamoto, then ‘Day Follows Night’ immerses us back into Wileman’s tuneful but disconcerting world. A place quite like Summerisle, where the ballads are laced with impending imperilment.
The album closes with ‘The Birth of Spring’ and fans of pagan horror will be already reeling at the shrouded menace in the title alone, but in fact it doesn’t pull any sacrificial pyres out of the hat, caressing the listener with its lilting piano and strings instead.
So, fans of Richard Wileman and Sanguine Hum will find much to love here, and those wishing to explore something new will be equally enchanted. Baber/Wileman is due for release in January 2022 on Believers Roast Records.