36 & the awakened souls – The Other Side of Darkness (PITP, 2020)

Yesterday was one of the nicest days of the year thus far, the sky an endless rim of encircling blue punctuated only by the hot pupil of the Sun. Walking in the forest with the heat on our backs, sunlight shimmering on the streams, the suggestions of emergent greenery budding, the delicate Winter afternoon rays beaming across the pastoral views and throwing a pall of twilight over the city on our return: something felt like it had changed today.

This stretch of lockdown has been the hardest at the seasonal nadir, as we all knew it would be; in this endless monotony life only seems bearable sometimes when we consider the possibility of a freer, brighter future and the return to something more “normal”. As the promise of restrictions lifting looms, and Spring with all its awakenings knocks on the door, a day like this peeks its head over towards the beyond, the other side of this darkness, and lets us imagine just for a brief moment how to feel alive again.

For now we’re kept in suspension, departed from our past selves and former lives but not yet able to move forwards. Caught somewhere in this limbo is where The Other Side of Darkness seems to find itself, the future held suggestively out of reach but emanating its radiant hope and possibility to dissolve the intervening malaise. All synth, guitar, piano and obfuscated, dreamy vocals, OTSoD floats a shapeless path towards redemptive eventuality.

“Ripples” is one of the more overtly 36 pieces here, and pained weightiness is strongest there. Piano arpeggiations spin out across glassy drone voids, refractions sparkling through the darkness as they disturb the unknown, wavelets dancing on the surface of possibility. Its idiosyncratic tones can be heard in equally suspended “Guide Me Home (One Misstep)”, whose woozy synths and breathy vocals call for aid across the gulf, gently asking for help to be pulled into the light.

While there are low points, especially as the record progresses, the earlier pieces have positively balearic atmospheres, drifting through oceanic blissouts. Sophomore “Spinning Around” brims with glowing, stretched synths, sliding guitar chords and smeared vocal coos, bright and azure and unfettered and untethered: it’s positively Chillwave. Similarly so for opener “Take Me By The Hand”: moving in gentle cyclicality over ethereal synths and crooning guitar drones, Cynthia’s vaporous suggestions of voice appear as papery, spectral whisperings suffusing through the airglow to carry us away to a better place.

It’s in closer “Need Your Light” where the two forms – the uncertain now and the hopeful future – seem to truly coexist. It finds itself receding into the mid-distance somewhat, grounded by deeper, torpid movements that reflect the immobility of the present, yet coated and surrounded by a pervasive sweetness in endless reverb. As though looking up at the glossy oscillating surface of the sea from some metres below in the photic zone, or slowly moving through a deep cave towards the point of luminance that exits into the bright surface world beyond.

Someday soon we’ll find ourselves on the other side of this situation we find ourselves in, the Spring of 2021 promising rebirth to the world at large as it always does, and perhaps also beginning to deliver us out of our current circumstances. For now we find ourselves in promissory limbo, but the other side of darkness seems to be approaching quickly.