wume’s first album to feature vocals.
Drawing heavily from the rudimentary electronic sounds coming out of 1970s Germany, wume take cues from repetitive motorik beats and kosmische synthesizers as a starting point for their heady, jam-based sound. The Baltimore-based duo of April Camlin and Albert Schatz use their limited instrumentation as a means of exploring the musical possibilities of not much more than Camlin’s sturdy percussive bass and Schatz’s wandering synthesizers. Towards the Shadow, their newest full-length, is wume’s first album to feature vocals, and Camlin does not shy away from entering boldly. Her lyrics are overtly political, aggressively criticizing systemic exploitation and individual complicity in widespread oppression, almost playing a foil to the playful music beneath her.
Even though vocals have become a focal point for the duo, some of the strongest sections remain instrumental, or come in sections where Camlin’s vocals are more complementary than central. The back half of “It’s Okay” is one of the most intricate moments here, as warm pads play off of the complex rhythms of Camlin’s drums, both alternating between dizzying cacophony and clarity. When there are vocals, the lyrics are representative of Camlin’s forward, often confounding political delivery. “There is no afterlife / Religion lied to you,” she sings, before offering hydration as an apparent solution to this deception.
“Ravel” is a purely instrumental cut, and one of the finest here. The rhythmically ambiguous opening almost resembles early 2000s Autechre, which is a huge testament to one of the album’s shining characteristics—Camlin’s drumming. “Ravel” finds her nimbly scuttering under Schatz’s synthesizers, teasing at downbeats while constantly contradicting any easy sense of metric identification. The track explodes into a direct, glorious climax, as the washy cymbals and stratified synth melodies exude a palpable energy.
“Functionary” is the most overtly political track here, with Camlin reading a lengthy excerpt from a text by Herbert Marcuse. Supported by sparse synths and heavy hand percussion, it almost reads as a warped take on a coffee shop open mic. Instead of emotive spoken-word poetry, though, its dense neo-Marxist criticism; instead of a granola faux-organicism, Camlin’s dry and electronically-treated voice gives the music an eerie artificiality. Still, there’s something a bit off about the track. While the music on the other seven tracks is loose and lively, “Functionary” feels a bit bland and underdeveloped—an effect further weighed down by the dated politics in the lyrics.
A few of the final tracks return to the bouncy, erratic music that marks Towards the Shadow’s best moments. “Pool of Light” is a noted shift in instrumentation, with a clean piano line guiding the progression. Schatz’s melody is one of the stickiest here, the result falling exactly halfway between American minimalism and hard bop. If anything, it shows the mirrored qualities between these perceivably far off styles, both crucial to the development of wume’s sound. The closer, “Genseq,” is a more subdued composition that builds walls of sound out of echoing vocals and reverberating synths, but it feels more cluttered than delicately layered.
Given how jagged some of the interplay can be and how many odd time shifts occur here, one thing Towards the Shadow does assert is Camlin and Schatz’s musicianship. Not only does the duo successfully execute their acrobatics, but, in the spirit of the album’s cosmic waviness, they make it sound nearly effortless. Especially on the livelier cuts, their skills at communicating are more than apparent. While some of the treatment of slower material is less developed, there’s still plenty here that respectfully pays homage to wume’s influences while still extending their practice into a 21st century rock lens.