Dan Barrett is an artist who possesses many talents. He creates anthemic yet eerie post-punk earworms in Have a Nice Life, performs acoustically as Giles Corey in what could only be described as “eulogy-core,” and manifests the gloomiest electronic palette imaginable in Black Wing. This isn’t even getting into his philosophical endeavors in his distinctly non-musical, self help structured “Better Questions” series. To put it simply, behind the aesthetic (sometimes real) gloom and Barrett’s now signature voice, there is a growth and a fondness not just for depression but acknowledging that there are other things in life that can speak to us.
No Moon is Barrett’s second Black Wing and the follow-up to its 2015 debut …Is Doomed, and in many ways No Moon changes the footing of Black Wing in the Barrettverse. The first single, “Bollywood Apologetics” is appropriately bleak, yet its trembling bass cuts past its ethereal expanse. Its industrial cadence leads listeners to a calming melody of warm gradients, crossing reverb thresholds in escalating intensities. Its nuanced details and production help to immediately separate it from Black Wing’s prior LP.
The album maintains this focus going forward, consistently leaning on a specific sound within the structure of each song that is blown beyond its scale. “Ominous 80s” pings listeners with its distended and constant droning bass levels, eventually leading to a decaying breakdown where electronics bellow and fall behind a singular beat that dredges up the track’s key melody into something else entirely.
The album, save for a few key moments, does its best to nestle Barrett’s unique vocal style behind walls of honed and orchestrated noise, a technique that sounds deeply familiar to fans of Have A Nice Life’s Unnatural World in which Barrett’s voice was as much an instrument as it was a furious scream from beyond. In contrast, “Always a Last Time,” a ghostly and tender track, lets Barrett’s voice take center stage, flanked by a massive bulwark of piercing cosmic tinged synths. This purposeful contrast is intelligent in its deployment.
The album’s compositions waver between minimalism and maximalism with agility, settling on near perfect balance with “Is this Real Life, Jesus Christ,” a song whose title defines a decent portion of its lyrical content. Tonally, it’s gentler than the rest of the album, leaning briefly into pop affectation, but never too far. As a counterweight to a song that feels lighter, stands the immensely heavy “Always Hurt,” a nearly monotone, yet wrenching track. It never wavers from its trajectory, and ends with an appropriately disaffected quietness.
The layers of antique recordings on “Sleep Apneac” serve as a layer to build on, with a dynamic chord progression, giving just enough breath before Barrett’s restrained vocals slot in to the second half. As opposed to the lingering, slouched and appropriately unrefined “Choir of Assholes,” which benefits the most from Barret’s unchained vocal style, an ode that ends up being more sincere than could have been imagined, echoing endlessly, “You just have to get over it,” over a spoken word meditation on self-improvement from Barrett.
In a display of appropriate grandiosity, No Moon ends with “Twinkling” a sprawling 13-minute track that represents the fulcrum of the album’s intention, leaning heavily into a familiar burnt and reverb-drenched synth that couples with a recurring melody, offering distinct variants and off-mic vocals shouted as loud as possible, leading to moments of anthemic catharsis.
No Moon is an album that constantly plays with dualities and contrasts, often in subsequent fashions to great effect. Curiously, its lyrical intensity is diminished in comparison to recent Barrett outings, but in this maturity is a newfound complexity and power, instead of a persistent and immersive gloom that stalks the listener from both safe and unsafe distances. It’s a triumph of purposeful and intentional design, an album that was born from the pandemic, and tailored from a landscape of dreams.