Dag Rosenqvist and Matthew Collings’ previous collaboration “Wonderland” is a curiously ambiguous beast, serene pastoral piano and field recordings haunted by a vague unease that occasionally bursts forth into all-out noise. Their new album “Hello Darkness” drops some of the ambiguity, landing firmly, as the title would suggest, on the side of dark and aggressive — though it’s not without some unexpected twists and turns of its own.
First, the noise: after an oddly muted first few minutes, heaving chords and shifting noise heard as if through thick walls, opening track ‘It Was Digital, and It Was Beautiful’ suddenly tears through the veil with a thumping beat and a swirling cloak of distortion. ‘Renaissance’ similarly holds its punches until midway through, when a huge sledgehammer of deep bass and sharp distortion ushers in the chaos that a tense, driving ostinato had been promising. But the dynamic peak of the album is probably reached in ‘Grey’, with a full-throttle wall of noise over which a clean guitar melody seems oddly vulnerable and out of place.
If this was all there was to “Hello Darkness”, then it would be easy to classify as the full-blown raging terror justifying the previous album’s dread. But the new work also has its softer moments — softer in volume, if not in emotional intensity. ‘Hours and Days’ is a simple quiet piano pattern, dressed in faint gleams and chinks; ‘Streets’ combines a flickering chord, like a loose wire wobbling in and out of contact, with a quiet hum provided by recordings of street traffic. Even the noisier moments are often bracketed by moments of quiet. Yet these calmer passages communicate their melancholy as clearly as the loud ones broadcast aggression and rage, embracing directness and plaintiveness without ever sounding pat or sentimental. Much can be communicated through ambiguity, but as Rosenqvist and Collings demonstrate, sometimes being explicit is the best way forward.