Randall Dunn is a name associated with a certain type of atmosphere—a haunting, patient, but nonetheless foreboding feeling that carries through every project that bears his credit. He’s produced haunting instrumentals from Earth and similarly ominous soundscapes from their robed counterparts in Sunn O))). He’s brought out the eerie spirits that lurk in the shadows of Marissa Nadler’s gothic folk, and helped to drape Wolves in the Throne Room’s black metal in a mystical fog. And, certainly, he’s helped to shape the sound of some really loud and intense records at that, most recently putting his stamp on the new album by Cloud Nothings. But whether it’s his doing or simply an intangible quality that draws him to each of these records, everything he has a hand in carries an air of darkness, one that’s not always so easy to define.
Dunn’s first solo record, Beloved, fits easily within his oeuvre as a behind-the-scenes figure. It doesn’t explicitly sound like Earth or Sunn O))) or Kinski or Black Mountain, but its tracks also make perfect sense when dropped into a playlist featuring all of those bands. It’s eerie and chilling music, ambient soundscapes for a dystopian future—or present. “The intent when I’m making something isn’t dark or light, it’s a bit more varied than that,” he said of creating this album, noting that the bleakness of recent years likely played an inescapable role in influencing it: “It was a bit more about being honest with the pieces of music I was making, and some of that relates to having a tumultuous couple years before this, and the general psychological climate of the earth, probably.”
The mood of Beloved isn’t just dark, it’s harrowing. It’s Blade Runner spliced with elements of The Shining, a dystopia with an unpredictable sense of danger. Yet there’s a stunning if chilling beauty about it all. The synth-laden sprawl of “Mexico City” feels utterly cinematic, a gothic soundscape fit for a breathtaking visual component. “Amphidromic Point” oozes with alien abstraction, and the deep bass piano notes that drive “Lava Rock and Amber” feel as awesome and formidable as the song’s namesake.
Beloved is a primarily instrumental release, but it features two notable guest vocalists. “Something About That Night” features Algiers’ Franklin Fisher lending a more melodic presence to what’s ultimately an ambient industrial track, yet the juxtaposition makes it all the more unsettling—flesh and blood and vulnerability against something terrifying. Yet Zola Jesus carries “A True Home” to an entirely different place. It feels hopeful and bright, the promise of something more optimistic. It’s a welcome presence on an album that’s engulfed in shadows. Yet it’s within those shadows that Dunn brings something mesmerizing and brilliant to life.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.