You can always rely on Trepanation Recordings to release the most obscure music from the UK avant-garde underground, yet the split LP from ex-black metaller, Duncan Evans, and multi-instrumentalist, Javier Wallis (aka Wilderness Hymnal), could be their most experimental record to date. Until Liars Fear You is what happens when you ask two unorthodox songwriters to produce five original cuts and one collaborative piece for a full-length album. Trying to categorise the final product is as futile as opening a new CD shop in your local high street.
Javier Wallis (aka Wilderness Hymnal) has a soothing voice, whose purpose is to infiltrate your daydreams, but his compositions are much more abstract. The opening a cappella of ‘Comet’ demonstrates an impressive navigation through the Gregorian chants via Celtic mysticism and sets the scene for the art-rock wonder of ‘I Buried My Teeth’. Imagine Mark Hollis of Talk, Talk collaborating with Peter Gabriel for an arrangement of minimalist electronica interspersed with spasmodic dashes of post-rock guitar. ‘The Hunter’ will remind you of Martin Gore’s vocal tracks on the last three Depeche Mode records – fragile tenor vocals and dissonant synth progressions merge in a canvass of obtuse paint splatters while the music tries to avoid any semblance of conventional melody. The aim here is to give an audio definition of introspective unease, like those Sunday afternoons when you’re on the comedown from a hangover and end up watching repeats of Hitler’s Henchmen on The History Channel.
The music may not click with you at first, but it’s a pleasure to analyse the intricate layering of the five Wilderness Hymnal songs on this album. Tracks that you wrote off as impenetrable minimalism reveal themselves as more than just avant-garde dissonance on repeat listening. The jazz drum chops on ‘Old Dogs’ invite you to search deeper into the latent instrumentation until you realise that there’s a lot going on here. Wallis also takes the microphone for the one collaborative piece with Evans on ‘Three Tempers’. A one-chord guitar arpeggio sustains the tension for four minutes as Wallis harmonises his voice over a screeching cello, like a male version of Kate Bush lost in the moment.
Duncan Evans has more resilient lungs and a louder projection than Wallis, yet his instrument of choice is the synthesiser. Wallis stays behind close curtains for most of this record, but Evans has no qualms about locking into a confident chorus note when the mood demands it. ‘Deadheading’ is like Morrissey covering Scott Walker to a backdrop of Kraftwerk’s ‘La Forme’. Here, the symmetrical synth patterns communicate with each other like flashing light bulbs on separate circuit boards.
Unfortunately, you cannot say the same thing for ‘No Exit, Pt.1’. A song that starts with the refrain of “I’m drinking coffee/ I’m waiting/ I’m sitting/ I’m drinking coffee” is an instant contender for the skip button. This strangest of minimalist electronica songs builds like the worst parts from Tricky’s Pre-Millenium Tension album from 1996, yet it settles down after two minutes into a paranoid buzz of backwards tape effects and monotone bleep noises. You’re still asking where this is going when ‘No Exit, Pt.2’ fires up into a symphony of transcendent self-awareness and melancholy remembrance with a Pavarotti vocal from guest singer, Duncan Wilcox. You could imagine this as the centrepiece in a Lars Von Trier film when the anti-hero lowers his mask and liberates himself from the constraints of civilised behaviour in an emotional bout of self-humiliation.
As the better of the two storytellers, Evans ends the record in style with ‘Mouse Mask’, a tragic tale of three delinquent criminals who lose their lives in a botched bank raid. The pathos in his voice is part Morrissey and part Jarvis Cocker set to a tune of acoustic strumming and teary-eyed accordion notes. “The dream is gone/ But there’s no one to tell you that you’re living it wrong,” laments Evans in empathy with his characters. It’s an emotional farewell that laves a permanent furrow on your forehead.
We said at the beginning that Until Liars Fear You is impossible to categorise. Perhaps art rock is the best description, but there’s nothing pretentious or ironic about this music. The eleven songs here invite you to ponder with a finger on your chin and both eyes cast at the ceiling. You don’t understand it entirely, but you know it has significance.
Release Date: 05/11/2021
Record Label: Trepanation Records
Standout tracks: I Buried My Teeth, Deadheading, Mouse Mask
Suggested Further Listening: Talk, Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988), Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe (2009), Björk – Vespertine (2001)