I’d like to thank Ben over at Black Metal & Brews for recommending this album during the course of a Twitter exercise that I’ve sadly fallen behind on. The instructions were to listen to one album you hadn’t heard yet for each day of February, and to write one tweet about it. On Ben’s suggestion, I listened to Sailors With Wax Wings’ self-titled album for Day 3, and it became my favorite out of all the new albums I heard.
Released in 2010, the single, self-titled record from the group features guest spots from about 24 people, including Ted Parsons (Swans), Dominick Fernow, Marissa Nadler, and members of Krallice, Nadja, Unwound, Current 93 and more. Leader R. Loren said a chance meeting with the ghost of Stephen Crane was the guiding force behind the album’s creation, and it all does sound like a dreamy hallucination. There are layers of guitars, synths, noise, and multiple vocalists all building and falling together.
Mostly, Sailors With Wax Wings is a mix of ambient/drone and post-rock (with references to Swans’ Soundtracks for the Blind and Kranky’s catalog) with guitar work that is inspired by black metal but never fully embraces the genre. “Yes, I Have a Thousand Tongues, and Nine and Ninety-Nine Lie” starts out with the most distorted guitar on the album, played in a minor key. It sounds almost like what one typically expects from metal until the song’s psych influences appear in the second half, thanks to lazy guitar lines and some reverb on the vocals.
Given that much of this album is an exploration of a shimmery, engulfing aesthetic, some of the songs get lost in one another. At its worst, this album is merely innocuously pretty, like having a Low record on in the background. At its best, it’s simultaneously breathless and drowsy, especially on the final track, “Strange That I Should Have Grown So Suddenly Blind.” It’s one of those songs that unfold so gracefully that you have to be still and close to sleep to witness it.
I’ve recently been listening to Sailors With Wax Wings alongside Grouper’s Ruins and Boduf Songs’ Stench of Exist. All of these albums touch on fragility and vulnerability while committing to their aesthetic so fully that it sounds like they’ve built an entire world. It’s particularly appropriate listening for Chicago in mid-February, as they bring a touch of warmth to what feels like inescapable cold: