The idea of the emotional journey from darkness to light is a timeless theme in works of art from Beethoven’s 9th to The Shawshank Redemption. This theme is brought to the album form on The Dark Becomes The Light by The Cellophane Heart, a one-man band hailing from Abbotsford, British Columbia. The style is alternative rock, the singer’s distorted vocals bringing to mind the late, great Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, another one-man band.
The album is divided into ‘The Dark Side’ and ‘The Light Side’, a neat idea which will make most sense on a vinyl release. I’ve always felt the best albums take the listener on an emotional journey and is what makes the album still an important art form. The album is quite the epic, clocking in at twenty tracks. As the term ‘dark’ suggests, the songs on the first side are lyrically bleak.
Opening song Hemo sets the tone (‘I walked outside in a silent scream
awake and floating in this scene…’) with Come Forward and Claim Me depicting the pragmatist’s existential crisis. Third track Your Art Will Kill You is a poignant song that describes the sometimes self-imposed isolation an artist experiences, but which they have to take to be true to themselves (‘With a passion that burns and massive need to express, I might explode like a star or disappear like the rest..’).
The music reflects the emotional landscape, a murky wall of electric guitars behind those gritty, distorted vocals, programmed drums giving the sound a modern edge. This modernity is aided by a subtle usage of synth patterns and atmospheric pads that add sonic texture and often a rhythmic pulse that helps carry the momentum of the song. The songs are generally mid-tempo so this helps add sonic variety.
The song Silent is about the idea of escaping from the predicament the album’s character finds himself in; “We could just leave this place and just forget where were from”. The ‘descent into hell’ continues with the plain scary Dogs (“All the dogs are getting closer to my meat”) . A Mother’s Love really twists the knife, consisting of voicemail messages from the singer’s mother that become increasingly negative in tone, set against a minimal backing. This is pretty raw listening, but I really admire this kind of artistic bravery.
Twenty tracks of this would have been too much, but fortunately “The Light Side” lightens the tone as the name implies. Ted’s Invention is a quirky and catchy alternative pop song, with the gentle, pretty melody of The Oxidation Process all the more soothing after the angst of the first side.
The songs on this side are more romantic in tone, though never cheesy or sentimental. The Pull of Your Beautiful Gravity depicts a more quotidian, realistic view of modern romance (‘we should rule the couch as queen and king, the remote control is ordering and changing up our universe tonight’). Search Party lightens the mood further (with some humorous samples about a man getting his scrotum pierced!) and I Have A Hard Time Letting Go delivers the album’s core message: We can escape from our despair, we’ll be okay’.
If all this darkness-to-light fare sounds pretentious it actually isn’t at all, and that’s because the songs are written from a real, often raw, emotional place and the second half is balanced by hope and humour. To put out such a long album is a brave move in this climate where people often don’t even let a song finish on Spotify, but a move that should be applauded. It is by someone passionate about the album as art form, and this moving, poignant work is a very good example of it. I recommend that everyone gives it a good listen, you’ll be rewarded for your time.
Verdict: 8.4 out of 10