Since this is more than an Album of the Year…it gets the full treatment.
Released October 2014 on Kscope and Mystic Productions (Poland)
Pages turn in a book…we hear the sea: slow waves rattling on the shingled beach, an echo-y one-note bass-line, deep in the background, begins….Walking on a Flashlight Beam, the new offering from Lunatic Soul, starts where “Impression IV” on the third album left off–with the rolling hiss of waves on the shore, a deep ominous pulse of electronics in the background. It is an album where books, the sea, impressions, imagination, dreams, and fears figure large; an album that its creator struggled to make and almost didn’t. But it is here, and what a gift it is.
Walking on a Flashlight Beam is the fourth Lunatic Soul album, the solo project and eponymous alter ego of Mariusz Duda, the leader of the Polish prog outfit Riverside. It works as a “prequel” to the lyric story arc of the first two Lunatic Soul albums, although that may not have been the initial intent when Duda went into the studio. He has been uncommonly forthcoming about the difficulties he experienced: The creative roadblocks and the subsequent withdrawal into personal reclusion eventually inspired the core idea of the album–the self-imposed isolation by individuals for creative or psychological reasons (such as hikikomori – young Japanese men who choose to seclude themselves and experience the outside world through a virtual filter). This phenomenon becomes the central motif of the album: Duda does not simply help us to imagine such isolation, he leads us straight into the agonized heart and soul of loneliness, solitude, the dark terror and desperate hope of someone who has chosen to cut himself off completely from the world. Despite that, it is a haunting, poignant, and heartbreakingly-beautiful journey we embark upon, with Mariusz Duda as our Ferryman.
It is difficult to convey how remarkably cohesive this album is. Each song fits exactly where it belongs, and there are very few wasted moments. Mood, music, lyrics are all perfectly intertwined and complementary, masterfully controlled; this consistency gives the album an organic ebb and flow that makes the 64 minutes seem like the shortest hour in the world. It is also truly a solo album: Duda has written every word and note, and played every instrument except the drums, which he has left to the almost preternatural skill of Wawrzyniec Dramowicz. This gives the album a sort of single-minded intensity not present in the other Lunatic Soul albums, and the result is almost cinematic in its vision and feel.
The album begins with “Shutting Out the Sun” and “Cold”, with their eerie ambient rhythms, winding synthesized bass lines and haunted vocals, slowly building up an unsettling sense of foreboding and unease. In “Cold” there seems a faint hope of redemption: the protagonist of the lyrics has shut himself away but still longs for human contact. Alas the soul-consuming terrors return in “Gutter”. This is a monster of a song. With its hypnotic eastern-flavoured themes, a dense, intricate bass line, and pounding, implacable rhythms, this astonishing track is perhaps the most primal and erotic music ever to come from the creative imagination of Mariusz Duda–it is damned near pornographic. No wonder it is a fan favourite.
At the end of “Gutter” our hero triple-locks his door. The largely instrumental middle part of the album carries us into an internal world of anxiety, isolation and imaginings. The briefly ambient “Stars Sellotaped” transitions into the jagged orthogonal rhythms and intersecting trancelike themes of the aptly-named “The Fear Within”–then a surprise: the gentle, upbeat and downright conventional “Treehouse”. This song is certainly an attention-grabber, a bright light against the dark, angst-driven mood of the rest of the album.
The last third of the album kicks off with “Pygmalion’s Ladder”, the longest and most complex track on the album, with echoes of “Gutter” in its structure: driving rhythms and oriental themes, and what may be some of Duda’s most delicate and moving singing yet. The moods in the song flit from acceptance to resignation to a final astonished terror—this is the climactic song for the protagonist, for whom a line is crossed, a fate sealed….
And with the last two tracks the mood lifts: no more fear and isolation, but the unnerving electronic buzz that cuts through the otherwise delicately beautiful “Sky Drawn in Crayon” reminds us of the darkness that lies beneath. The magnificent “Walking on a Flashlight Beam” winds up the album. This is arguably one of Mariusz Duda’s finest compositions–calming, reflective, with heartbreakingly-gorgeous singing, a ray of light to end the journey.
Walking on a Flashlight Beam is very much an electronic album, more than any of the previous Lunatic Soul offerings, and this gives it a very different feel. It is dark and downright disquieting at times, but somehow never bleak: There are very ambient trance-like moments, delicate acoustic passages, and drivingly heavy industrial moments. It is dense, textural, restless with percussion. As with all the Lunatic Soul albums, there is no electric guitar, but there are overdriven effects that mimic the sound. With Mariusz Duda at the helm we can count on two things: his silky distinctive vocals, and a focus on melody—and on this album Duda has surpassed himself. As fine as his vocals have been on all previous albums, both Lunatic Soul and Riverside—apparently that was all just practice. There are vocal and melodic moments on this album that beggar description.
In short, Walking on a Flashlight Beam is a magnificent work of art. Whatever demons drove its creation, the result is an emotional tour de force of utterly inspired songwriting and performance. It compels attention and grabs onto the soul: Duda has said that his solo project is “music for the Souls whether they be Lunatic or not”—and anyone with any kind of musical soul will be unable to escape its enormous relentless capacity to make you feel. It is definitely my album of the year, and it is likely to place very high on many year-end lists.