One way to find new music is curiosity. Finding music that you like, simply look at what else the label has championed and what other artists they’ve released. Often, in amongst the artists that have 4 or 5 albums, you might well find a release that sits slightly adrift from everything else, an unfamiliar name that perhaps just appears once. One such time, whilst exploring Guruguru Brain’s Bandcamp page, the name J. William Parker and his album Shadowmen did just that.
A mysterious songwriter, based in Hanoi, that we described previously like ‘Sixto Rodriquez getting fixated by Flying Saucer Attack’. That album, whilst littered with moody titles and murky bedroom production values, beamed with a superb ethereal brilliance. You got the sense Parker was singing and playing his heart and mind out, in some secret creative bubble.
Thankfully, the 33 minutes of Shadowmen wasn’t an isolated puddle of perfection, as recently, he’s released two albums that manage to push his vision even further. Pacific Fields and what Parker confirms via email, is a further collection of odds and ends from the process of making that album – To Hear Their Voices In The Dark. Arbitrarily, this was what we hit play on first and what greeted our ears and brain is nothing short of remarkable.
13 songs in just less than an hour but the truth is, we are thrown into a twisting voyage built up of dozens of fragments, almost all of which could easily expand into just as worthwhile extensions. Imagine Syd Barrett, Mark Fry, Faine Jade or Eno, knitted into a blanket with drones, cavernous spaces, lo-fi textures, sprinkled with electronics and loaded with lyrics you just know are well lived in.
In The Dark, emerges out of the trees in a beautiful jangled echoing groove as a perfect scene setter but turns itself inside out within 2 and a half minutes into buzzing droning threads dusted with temple bells.
By All Means tightens with a terse groove, and Arthur Russell style vocals before getting destroyed in a fuzzy explosion and circling around guitar and electronics like a Sea and Cake remix. Then we drift through another acid blasted ballad, which grows into an orchestral foggy conclusion, thick with detail, all within 5 and a half minutes.
Misty Juneau lilts like the watery twin of Eno’s Put A Straw Under Baby. The Dead of Night is a dirty groove with spat out vocals that’s hard not believe or fall for, ending in a megaphoned declaration – ‘Do you fuckin’ understand?’
10 minutes into To Hear Their Voices In The Dark and it’s already crammed with more ideas than others have had in their entire careers. A criticism to work like this might be to focus more and edit out some elements, adding a sense of cohesion, but despite the odds, Parker is a master plate spinner.
The twists keep coming, the false start of Ignore the Glint of Murderous Dictators opens into a pecked at protest strum, sung to a twinkling night sky. Echoes are draped over the gentle rocking of ‘twas a muddy morning before huge watery ripples bounce sunbeams over Minni Chen.
After the brief textures of Interlude, Never Without delights in the surface of his own voice, gently dancing along the edge of distortion. I’m Not Sayin I’ve Seen Better Days opens out into a folky beauty trailed by ghostly whispers, whilst I’m With the Lunatic spins around a grungy rock heart.
The 6 minutes of I can’t believe finally reaches some calm spaciousness as throbbing columns of silence seep through the music. The 12-minute closer Finest China delights in more moody blurring before chugging along another groove like a form of garage rock minimalism, moving between reorganised versions of itself. A heaving static drone eventually swells through and we float into a deep space void for the final minutes.
Taken as a development of where the previous album, Shadowmen, dropped us off before, Parker’s work could have shot off in several ways. Everything we loved before is here again but the thing that’s so special here is how much more he’s shoehorned in. This isn’t a record that’s following any sort of road map or bowing to any sort of genre rule book. Quite, how life in Hanoi has potentially formed this music is anyone’s guess but what has been delivered, in the most unassuming way, is a fearless sonic statement.
Despite To Hear Their Voices In The Dark seemingly dropping out the ether, with little fanfare, this dark and mysteriously mangled folk music is no less than a masterpiece of loner psych.