Music for Insomniacs
Mark Van Hoen got involved with music in the early ’80s and has been producing and releasing music for 20 years under different names; he is a highly influential musician, though often overlooked. The sound that put groups like Boards of Canada on the map can be found weaving through Van Hoen’s catalog. His latest release under the Locust pseudonym, You’ll Be Safe Forever, is a strange piece of work indeed.
An album like this might be called “philosophical” by an optimist. The rest of us would call it dark. You’ll Be Safe Forever feels intensely introspective and somber from start to finish. Slowly descending melodies run through many songs, creating a combination of harmony and discord overlaid with heavily distorted vocal samples. Locust is working a sound that is thick, slow, and in a strange way, relaxing.
As bleak as it sometimes seems, this is an album full of subtle variety. Van Hoen ranges from industrial trance-inspired music on “Strobes” to a dark psychedelic hip-hop vibe in “Just Want You.” At many points in You’ll Be Safe Forever, percussion and rhythm are completely eliminated in favor of pure ambient melody. Locust could be conducting guided meditation one minute, and slip quietly into horror-core immediately after. Transitions like this would be jarring in most cases, but Locust moves through them with a subtlety and grace that many musicians lack.
Although Locust’s latest release is fairly dark, it’s not depressing or grim. Colorful melodies and catchy drum-lines abound on this album. It’s even dance-friendly at times. Something about it, however, forces it to the dark side. There is little brightness to be found here, but there’s plenty of warmth, like the mellow light that emanates through a stained glass window on a cloudy afternoon.
In one of the album’s stand-out tracks, “The Washer Woman,” Locust calls up a sound reminiscent of Bowie’s instrumental work on Low in the late ’70s. As a whole, Van Hoen’s sound does seem pretty low. It’s not full of life, energy or enthusiasm. It’s been carefully planned by a calm mind. It’s the feeling an insomniac gets after being awake for so long that he’s not tired anymore. It’s subdued and placid, even in its slightly raucous moments.
In a way, You’ll Be Safe Forever is kind of sublime.