Keys for Eclipse – Downpour

Élan Vital Recordings / 2020

In the 1999 video game Silent Hill, the phrase “Keys for Eclipse” is found on a note along with the coordinates for the location of three skeleton keys that, once found and used, turn the sky black. As the eponymous inspiration for Jacob Anthony’s Keys for Eclipse project, I suggest we consider this allusion in terms of the light (or dark?) it sheds on the tone and theme of his debut for Élan Vital Recordings, Downpour.

At first glance Downpour is an apparently mild meditation on a cloudy day, marked by deep, shimmering synth washes that draw the listener into a trance-like, almost psychedelic dreamscape. The persistent use of rain samples and field recordings defines its setting rather clearly as a rural vista on a stormy day. Track titles like “Haze” and “Landscapes” only confirm such an interpretation. And although I call the feeling of this surface-level listening “psychedelic,” I would also like to emphasize the realism I found in the album’s seemingly tangible setting. Which is to say, as fuzzy or hazy as Anthony’s synth engineering may get, it still superficially fell into the same space in my mind as artists like Lingua Lustra, whose work, in my opinion, describes an evidently real universe in highly aestheticized tones. But I think that upon further listening, actually Downpour moves from an apparently real setting into increasingly peculiar aural and “visual” territory, like an uncanny valley experience, or perhaps more intentionally, into a nightmare. And so it is ultimately through representing this quality of unheimlichkeit that Keys for Eclipse comes closest to the artistic space envisioned by its inspiration in Silent Hill, not only in terms of its so-called Kafkaesque dream logic, but also in the likeness that uncanniness shares with 90’s gaming and its eerie not-quite-humanity. But let us take a closer listen to some of these tracks so I can better explain what I’m hearing.

The album starts with the aptly named “Drifting Nausea,” whose vague fog of discordant synth waves move in and out, perhaps to capture the uncertain feeling that might accompany the entry of a rolling fog into the view of your bedroom window. High tones evoke the touch of streetlights perfusing through the mist. One wash enters (in the right channel at 0:35 and continues throughout) that sounds to me like the long down-stroke of a violin section in a romantic symphony, and this adds a certain amount of melancholy to the atmosphere (this sound is used throughout the album). At the same time the artificial chirping sounds (from approx. 1:00 – 1:30), domestic noises (1:30 – 2:00), bird sounds, and (perhaps) wind chimes give a certain mundanity to the mix, as if our protagonist really is moving about a house or in a garden. It’s as if the elaborately designed and layered field recordings (or single imminently realistic environment) Anthony has collected provide a single backdrop for the emotional response or inner monologue expressed by the synthesizers. If this were the case, the music would indeed fall closer to the category of hyper-realism I describe above exemplified by Lingua Lustra. And maybe I would make such an argument were it not for the developments later in the album.

“Sleep/Dream Cycle” seems to extend the kind of narrative perspective of the first track with a slightly less tangible footing in reality, as if the house has indeed been engulfed in this fog, a kind of living metaphor or objective correlative for the dream/nightmare at hand. But the abject confusion of the third track, “Landscapes,” and its anti-melody seemingly unbinds us from reality. “Haze” has the sound and feeling of cicadas on a warm summer night coupled with passing cars and bikes, but even in its oasis of calm, the loop of similar sounds is too familiar, and the entry of strange buzzing and high-pitched electronics gives the peaceful surroundings an air of falseness waiting to be revealed. Later tracks like “Social Amnesia” seem to explore this falseness by presenting particularly grounded settings (a reverbed-out piano over people talking in the yard, a child crying) in an unbelievably strange way. And how does Anthony so exquisitely paint the backmasked rain falling upward on “I Took a Picture, I Was Sick of Motion”?

By the time I reach the album’s closer, “Two Part,” the fabric of reality once woven by Anthony’s field recordings has been completely undone so thoroughly as to make me question the once reliable and ubiquitous rain sampling that had lead me to believe I was listening to a rainy-day album in the first place: is it really rain, or just a sample of the grain of a record? The paranoia caused by the album’s deep dive into the unreal has brought me to a place of complete uncertainty even when surrounded by soothing New Age synth tones who so glibly reassure me of this new world’s delicate affection. But in the final act’s last half-minute, these unnervingly nurturing soft synths let up, and I discover that, yes, it was just rain all along. And in those last moments I wonder, was I just hearing things?

Lastly, I feel I should add that this mixture of paranoia, melancholy, nightmarish nebulosity and 90’s gaming aesthetics most reminds me of 2814, particularly their most recent EP “Voyage / Embrace”. There are moments that also clearly recall the most dangerously far out SAW II tracks as well (like “Match Sticks,” linked above), although it would be hard to claim that Aphex Twin has any interest in grounding the listener in reality with that work. My point here being that it would be difficult to call the ideas or sonic palette that Keys for Eclipse explores completely “original,” but that does not diminish the efficacy of his work. In fact, I would much like to see these kinds of unsettling ambient spaces further explored.

By Isak McCune

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