It is crucial to your understanding of my understanding of Cemeteries’ The Wilderness that, commonly held national sentiments and a somewhat deserved reputation for roughness aside, Buffalo, New York carries a vibe and atmosphere that resonates surprisingly strong. It’s a strange, savage land of broken factory windows, where the vast expanses of the Niagara Frontier and Lake Erie run up against one another and push forth from the ground a thicket of buildings and architectural wonders — including a majestic, art deco city hall and the muscularly beautiful Peace Bridge — where city streets become suburban in an instant and revert back again, constantly shifting. It’s where one can tool around the day after Easter with nostrils frosted and a head full of hydrocodone and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl with luxurious, natural Bordeaux hair behind the wheel, or stand beneath slate November skies on the banks of the Niagara River, brutally high and swaddled in a Buffalo Bills 1993 AFC champions crew neck sweatshirt, and all of this is even before the legendary snowfall begins, the thick wet lake effect that will completely transform the city overnight into a cream and heather wonderland of skeletons coated in cocaine.
It is from this strange place that Cemeteries hails, and his infatuation with the dark wooded bands that cut through the city are the genesis of The Wilderness. It is dream pop, in the Beach House variety, and is expansive and ephemeral, as dream pop is often wont to be, and composed primarily of cold smoke, pearly grays and light lilacs, and all shades of blues and navies and pale moonlight. A sense of homogeny is both the album’s greatest strength and most glaring weakness; the songs are quite similar to one another, like paintings in a series, but, unlike paintings, where our visual bias allows us to easily find and admire minute details, most people do not have the audio acuity — or the patience — to appreciate the individual song, per se. The result is an album that is quite adept setting music, an immersing experience when listened to as a whole, but at the same time fatiguing when one attempts to dissect it piece by piece. As such, treating The Wilderness as one long movement, or perhaps two to three suites, leads to a more enjoyable listening experience, allowing one to simply drift away in Cemeteries’ beautiful two dog nights.
Opener “Young Blood” sounds like moonlight through the trees, and is a template for much of the rest of the album’s sounds. Cold chords ring confident and long, shimmering sounds over gently driving percussion on top of which Cemeteries’ airy vocals float. This same general brush stroke is applied numerous times across the album’s cuts, most explicitly in the opening triad, where it finds a variations in timbre and mood on the more upbeat eponymous track before the softly unsettling opening of “What Did You See” begins to usher in a new sound. “Summer Smoke” picks up upon the darkness originally laid by “See,” opening with deep, mahogany rich synths that evoke still, black lakes before falling more into line with its predecessors, albeit with a sense of melancholy that was lacking before. “In the Trees” is stranger still, harder, built off of an entrancingly weird hook.
“Brighter Colors” is a stand out, the mist coalescing into a tighter song whose poppy, more approachable song craft is a fine break from the general even keel of the rest of the cuts. It opens like the hopeful cousin of the Handsome Furs‘ “I’m Confused” before becoming a softly marching slice of dream pop, the emphasis this time decidedly on pop. It feels almost contextually removed from the rest of the album, although not quite, and, rather than existing in an infuriating state of limbo, it instead provides just enough of a gentle jolt to catalyze the miasma around it while at the same time not distracting from the palette Cemeteries already has in place.
In the end, one’s enjoyment of The Wilderness is entirely dependent on to how much one adheres to the Pappademas Test, the ability of a piece of music to push everything else out of existence during its duration, to hold tight the reins of the mind. Those who take that standard of measurement as gospel will most likely be disappointed with Cemeteries. Those who do not, however, will find something to enjoy here; The Wilderness is an exercise in atmosphere, and not an unenjoyable one at that.
(Lefse Records, no address provided)