‘Us Again In Amber’, the pretty-but-frigid opening track on bvdub’s new album, Explosions in Slow Motion (n5MD), is a premonition of what will soon follow. Brock Van Wey’s previous album on n5MD, Heartless, threatened to split itself apart as it journeyed through rocky times, but its underlying emotional core – so powerful, as with all of bvdub’s output – became something like a sanctuary, a comfort in the midst of its trials. Things were going to be alright. After the album’s release, Van Wey moved from California to the ice-encrusted winter of Warsaw, Poland.
The two areas continue to offer a deep contrast, a steep drop in temperature being met with a host of cultural differences. And as so often happens, this change of scenery – this change of life – rejuvenated the music. The listener is in for a shock to the system, as those Californian synths, splashed with warm waves, neon lights, and frazzled by the midday sun, disappeared as soon as the landing gear left the ground. The icy thump sounds like a heartbeat in sub-zero conditions, its vessels contracting and its heat preserved in the slowing down of its blood supply. The upbeat feeling has vanished, but the record becomes even more powerful in the absence of euphoria. The slow, weary beats don’t want to move.
The deep piano and stable strings hint that the reign of Heartless is now well and truly over, but Van Wey traded trouble for isolation and change; Explosions in Slow Motion responds to a personal earthquake by becoming a sober and mournful work. Not all of its tracks are twenty minutes long, so that’s a change, but it still sounds like bvdub, albeit cold and remote. Those radiator-warm atmospheres and honey-soaked, reverb-laced lyrics have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Taking over are vignettes, which appear between the longer tracks, helping to create distance within the album, both geographical and aural. When vocals do appear, they’re far off, somewhere on the other end of a scratchy, long-distance line, the call cutting in and out like a tired code. The atmosphere remains one of constant ebb and flow, but one cannot escape the cold. With it being too cold to venture outside, the sense of isolation grows even deeper, working its way into the synth.
In spite of this, Van Wey brought his oldest friend, music, to Europe. Even in a new country and among his different surroundings, he was never alone. Warsaw’s winter is a beast from the East; shards of ice glisten on the edge of the synth, distorting its appearance and turning its tips into jagged scissors. Van Wey’s epics are in the grip of winter, its thick coating of snow resembling the cold permanence of loss as well as a burying of the past. Something else shines through, and that’s bravery. The loss, and the change, is a different kind to the one experienced within the aching bones of Heartless, but it’s still incredibly personal. This album is a method in coping, and music in which acceptance turns into fruit. There’s release in the cold, a catharsis taking place within the cocoon. Even as old friends (and old enemies) go missing, thousands of miles away and living on another continent, the music still stands, ever moving forward and never stopping. Everyone’s path is different; Van Wey’s brought him here.