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Bvdub - The Art of Dying Alone


Glacial Movements

In the anonymous world of ambient, bvdub aka Brock Van Wey has developed an actual physical existence over the past few years. It’s hardly a cult of personality, but it’s relatively easy to find interviews with him and discover the back-story for an obviously interesting character: to be brutally reductive, San Francisco DJ becomes disillusioned with “the scene”, sells his record collection, moves to China, comes back, and starts to make music.

He’s prolific as well. The Art Of Dying Alone is (at least) his fifteenth release in four years and it continues a developing formula. Saturnine, predominantly beatless tracks of epic length are built into swirling crescendos from layered and looped fragments of strings, vocals, piano and acoustic guitar. It’s sonically consistent, but not identically so - To Finally Forget It All plays with things a little, introducing some clicky, languid percussion half way through, which after ten-plus minutes burrowing into your brain starts to sound like a cabasa, if one was strapped to a sloth. And the title track leads with less processed mantra-like vocals, reminiscent of overblown sci-fi theme music.

One of the points Van Wey makes regularly is that the “dub” in “bvdub” has nothing to do with dub techno. However, The Art Of Dying Alone swims in reverb (boom, there’s the “dub as FX” trope) and you can hear the light-and-shade genre aesthetic in the shimmering fabric of the first two tracks Descent To The End and Nothing From No One. I suppose the argument is that dub techno has no monopoly on mining melancholia from repetition, but it seems a little specious to deny it so vehemently. Perhaps a more apposite dub comparison is the dub remix - if brainy, mathy pop acts like The Books or Cornelius commissioned mammoth extended remixes they might sound something like this.

This melodic pop sensibility means that in common with much ambient soundscaping, almost anyone would find The Art Of Dying Alone a remarkably pleasant superficial listen - notwithstanding the track titles, which are almost comically emo to a cynical British ear. Maybe the album could unspool through an open window as you daydream and watch clouds from a deckchair, or it could soundtrack a humdrum hour sat at a desk. But if you take the album full-on in the spirit that is presumably intended, it’s a deeply and occasionally wonderfully emotional experience - when the album highlight No More Reasons Not To Fail peaked about nine minutes in it’s only a minor over-exaggeration to say my heart nearly staved in and I felt I never needed to listen to anything else ever again. In all honesty though, this level of investment is hard to give, because sustaining it for nearly 80 minutes is exhausting and the eventual pay-off is probably nothing more than a mild and lingering depression. But then I wouldn’t know that for sure; I couldn’t manage it.

As a result, I still prefer last year’s To Live on Smallfish, which made a similar impact but in a smaller form factor. The Art Of Dying Alone is a great album and a worthy addition to a distinct and fascinating body of work, but you may end up wishing for something a little less, dare I say it, anonymous.

Sam Stagg

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