36 – Void Dance (2015)


Across the last couple of EPs, 36 has acquired a noticeable slant towards probing the conceptual devices around space travel and exploration in Sun Riders and then in the somewhat more fully formed and deliberate Sine Dust. Following these we’ve been gifted a fully fledged album pertaining to these themes in the rich soundscapes of Void Dance, unfolding on the tantalising promise that humanity will one day reach out to conquer this final frontier.

While Sine Dust was quite a neatly concise and well defined entity,Void Dance is a little more complex and broadly affecting, and while it seems to initially set out on the same neat path it quickly becomes a bit bogged down and murky in its attempt to cover so much ground. Intrepid steps are made in the first few tracks, with appropriately titled opener “Hold On” commencing our voyage in dense and purposefully twisting synth strings, fragile atmospherics being stripped away to be replaced by the bleak vacuum of space and “Equinox”‘s crumbling, ethereal movements, the strings smearing into a dark miasma and eerie human wails.

Hypersleep or stasis or suspended animation is part of our journey it seems as we wake from the long nap in the humbling “Stasis Eject”, a piece where our future explorers find themselves awakening in imposingly alien surrounds in its gritty drone chuggings and tentative, fragile synth starriness. Fear rolls around into the strange, seemingly BoC inspired couplet of “Meschi Echelon” and “Nova”, the former a syncopating mass of tripping arpeggiations, and the latter a little more conventional in its retro faded analogue synth vibe and hazy background textures, much like the diffuse and ancient explosion remnant of its namesake.

This exciting new scenery must wait as we return to the journey at hand and the descent into the unknown resumes with “Pulse Dive”, a shuffling, alien excursion that captures a certain systematic electronic precision before being allowed to outline the emotional side of things, the magnitude of this moment evoked in its deepening drones and inquisitive, humbled noodlings. “Tomorrow’s World” circles the possibility of an unknown, mystical future in its flatly methodical and anechoic synth lines and supplementary drone coos, while the ensuing title track follows up its disappointing orbital drift in its reworked “Sun Riders” idiosyncrasies. Unlike the rich vibes of its predecessors it’s a cool, strained and deeply melancholic piece who’s thin strings strain to return to the reliable warmth of its home star after finding nothing of worth.

That creeping sensation of hopelessness and drifting abandon becomes more entrenched with each passing track in the album’s waning latter half; “Diamond Rain” is a crystalline dreamscape filled with the cold patter of precipitation falling from the heavens of an as-yet-undiscovered new home, while “Sine Dust” is the deeper longing of that rich foreign sky, the dawn of a new day on a distant planet mirroring the celestial dance of our homeworld, calling out to us in soft female whispers from across the gulf. This hope seems to drip further away in the bleary and insubstantive “The Last Light”, a slightly overlong penultimate behemoth clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, peering through its over-long stretches at the ebbing light of a receding star as it turns its back on yet another world in our search for habitation.

And yet all is not lost; closer “Endless” breaks the spell of melancholia and brings a more forward leaning and quietly optimistic piece to the table in the record’s final moments; our search is merely the tip of the iceberg; a billion billion more stars still wait for us, it seems to say, let’s not lose hope. The path through the record to this point has not been a clear one, and amidst the enigmatic presentation there’s also been a feeling of inefficiency in my mind as well, but “Endless” provides an extremely satisfying resolution; it’s an excellent closer that exceptionally neatly ties things off whilst also leaving a tantalising sense of future development.

It’s a good record, no question, but I can’t help but feel like it somehow lost the effective simplicity and directness of Sine Dust somehow, that the story has grown and expanded and become a bit too open to weakly distorted interpretations of the sound, too confusing. The themes really appeal to me though, and I hope we get more music from Dennis in this celestially evocative vein.