The experience of awaiting new music from a band that previously released your album of the year can be foreboding, especially if the band in question is known to be an unpredictable shapeshifter. The tug of war between trepidation and giddy excitement can become overwhelming and begets deeper questions: how do you even categorize or approach something that defies expectations and convention at every turn? Is it even fair or useful to compare their new release with previous ones? In the case of Vide, the sole clear answer is that only Emptiness could have conjured up this hypnotic album.
With a history of increasingly idiosyncratic full-length releases going back to 2004, Emptiness executed a quantum leap with the release of the bleak and ominous Nothing but the Whole in 2014, followed by the atmospheric masterwork of Not for Music in 2017. If Not for Music was the soundtrack for a one-way journey through desolate urban vistas and abandoned avenues and for becoming one with the never-ending night, Vide is its enigmatic aftermath, a collection of disturbing fragments and warped recollections from the mold-infested basement of a crumbling memory palace. It is also firmly planted in the Emptiness universe and long-time fans of the band will appreciate how Vide starts with a nod to the first sounds of Not for Music and ends with a callback to the abrupt ending of Nothing but the Whole. It can be said that even the titles of the previous albums presage the character of Vide and there is a purpose and meaning behind all these cross-references and intertextuality.
But even by the band’s standards, Vide is creepy, drugged-out and claustrophobic with rays of dark matter caressing its suffocating cocoon. It is also, in a way that will surely alienate many listeners, stripped down and occupies a soporific liminal space between sleep and wakefulness, where Jérémie Bézier’s heavily manipulated vocals envelop the listener in a fog of snarls, mutters, sighs and murmurs that emerge from the void, and provide a guiding beacon for the proceedings.
At times, Vide feels like William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops on barbiturates, with soundscapes and tape loops seemingly bereft of discernible riffs and structure. Full appreciation of Vide requires familiarity with the conventions and characteristics of ambient and minimal music and its emphasis on texture and atmosphere that are squeezed through the rusty sieve of disfigured, dystopian dream pop. The album’s transient quintessence resembles a dawning realization of experiencing the first signs of early-onset dementia, characterized by terrifying confusion, melancholy and an inescapable sense of loss.
While some of the songs bleed into one another, especially at the album’s middle section where the methodical repetition begins to dangerously skirt monotony, they are redeemed by the subtle variations on the album’s running theme and prime objective of gradual emotional and psychological exhaustion. The reason for both this risk and success is largely due to the bookending excellence of the captivating beat and subterranean rumble of “Vide, incomplet” and the dreamy floating and trance-inducing guitars of “L’ailleurs”, which serve as clear album highlights.
Few albums have recently hit me with such a flood of conflicting emotions and, I daresay, bafflement. Is Vide good or bad, a masterstroke or a floundering flop? Is it a stopgap measure inspired or necessitated by the pandemic or a mesmerizing detour via some impermanent scenic route shrouded by a disorienting haze? Simply, it is. The album has everything and nothing happening at the same time and needs to be approached as a full-body experience which is impervious to clinical assessment and analytical dissection. Vide is bewildering in the best way, in that it evokes contrasting sensations, with a core that is at once cold and dissociative but also strangely warm, comforting and anesthetic. It burrows its way into your brain matter and consolidates a haunting and harrowing presence buried somewhere in the depths of darkest memory imprints. If there’s an album tailor-made for lives on hold and suffocating isolation during a pandemic, this is it. Part of me wonders if Emptiness can get any more weirder, amorphous or ephemeral on future releases, but this is, after all, Emptiness. Until then, I will gladly remain lost in Vide’s intoxicating misery pop.