Albums Under £5: Wander – Kat Gat Sea (2016)
Wander is an instrumental folk duo from Italy, formed by guitarists Vicenzo de Luce and Matteo Tranchesi. Their self-titled debut, released in 2014, hewed closer to regular folk than most of the music either had made before. I can’t find any interviews to figure out their stance from, but I’m not sure to what extent de Luce in particular would even consider himself a folk musician – on collaborations such as Drowning In Wood and Zero Centigrade he’s pushed folk music to the edge of recognition, blurring it with genres such as free jazz and doom. On Wander, however, the duo play sparse yet gentle guitar music, similar to some of the songs on Tranchesi’s Soundcloud but stripped of the field recordings and hints of electronics. I’ve a limited frame of reference when it comes to folk, but it reminded me in places of the Dwarf Fortress soundtrack. It’s a conservative move, perhaps the result of the band scaling back their ambitions until they get to know each other better, but despite this it’s an absorbing album – the music’s calm in a way that gives it the kind of countryside vibe you’d expect from folk, but its slow, lonely melodies and effective use of silence mean it has an atmospheric edge that keeps it from sinking into the background.
It’s clear from the beginning of Kat Gat Sea, however, that the duo are pushing in the other direction, into territory as abstract as any they’ve covered before. On ‘Unfinished Departures’, the album’s opening track, they take the twanging, dissonant notes that had begun to sneak in on their interim EP Old Postcard and stretch them right out into harsh, atonal buzzing. What little melody it has drops away entirely on the second track, which loses itself in a void of electronic noise; the only points of reference are some sort of distant flickering and bursts of a trumpet distorted until it almost sounds like screaming. Not all of the album is this inhospitable, but the passages that let you drop your guard are brief – ‘Faded Memories’, the prettiest track on the album, only lasts ninety seconds before it’s consumed by a harsh, mechanical whine and faded into ‘Into The Flood’, a cavernous ten-minute drift through swirling feedback and hollow echoes of guitar. It is, for the most part, a bleak album, one that takes the loneliness of Wander and projects it on a much larger scale, billowing it out like a freezing fog.
Some of the best parts of the album are its coldest and most inhuman, which surprises me. To be honest, when I was looking into the duo’s back catalogues I found a fair part of their experimental stuff pretty dry – difficult to pay attention to, much less get lost in. I reckon there are a couple of reasons why they pull off these abstract passages on Kat Gat Sea. For a start, it feels like they form part of something larger – the album opens with a snippet from an interview about whether life has any meaning, and all the dead, heavy notes and swathes of noise give the whole album that same fear that there’s no higher purpose, that we’re just drifting through something we don’t understand. It’s not a cheery place to spend forty-odd minutes, but it’s an interesting one. On a musical level, meanwhile, they work because they’re grounded by more familiar playing, similar to what the duo were doing on Wander. ‘The Steps Of Your Way Back’, for instance, begins as ominously as anything else on the album, with slow, forceful strumming building over distant white noise, but a couple of minutes in the tension breaks and a warm, lilting guitar line comes in, with a muffled thump underneath it like a heartbeat. Both parts work all the better because of the other, and there’s a real feeling of relief when the tone shifts – like getting lost on unfamiliar roads as the sun begins to set, only to turn a corner and instantly get your bearings.
For my first few listens I thought keeping on whiplashing to these relaxing parts kind of defeated the purpose of recording an album so filled with existential dread, but the more I think about it I wonder whether it means that Wander found some sort of resolution. Kat Gat Sea’s warmer, melodic parts never answer the questions asked in the first thirty seconds, or even completely drive away the sense of unease hanging over the album, but they do suggest that there’s comfort to be had in life even if there is no ultimate meaning. I kind of like that. Over Wander’s two albums Tranchesi and De Luce have rebuilt their style into something much more well-rounded, developing a sense of tone stronger than anything I’ve heard from them separately. Whether or not they keep recording together, it’ll be interesting to see what they do with all that they’ve learned.
Kat Gat Sea is available for purchase here.