Opacity is seductive as immediacy is deceptive. To look deep within ourselves is to confront blank passages and confusion, but to admit these obscurities without engaging their accompanying emotionality would be self-defeating. The slow, imprecise work to unpack, at least partially, what at first seems like empty space is how we uncover fragments of ourselves to be aligned and realigned. These fragments are not answers, and they’re not obvious, but there’s a comfort in at least laying out the pieces. Will To Be Well deals with the work of piecing together.
These impressions are the work of writer/producer Marc Dall and engineer Alex Ander, who re-sample and -work their songs into subtly affecting soundtracks that come and go as passages, but merge into a quiet statement about the ways we can feel. The peaks of this double album are a culmination of Dalhous’ more expressive pieces, which dwell in the murky interstices of our moody selves, the spaces where our emotions and memories don’t quite contradict or overwrite one another.
While many of the album’s stronger tracks are also its most spacey and elusive, the sequencing emphasizes just how important the clicking, EDM drums are to the project’s core. Floating ambience gives way to anxious percussion (and vice versa) throughout, and the edges between these two modes blur over the course of the album. The icy synths and clicking snares of “Sensitised To This Area” fade away into the misty drone of “Lovers Of The Highlands,” while the welcoming lulls of opener “First Page From Justine” are overcome by the beat-driven “A Communion With These People.” It’s in these shifting one-two punches that the patchwork emotionality — desperation and calm, motivation and malaise, frustration and resignation — bleed into a sub-subset of moods.
Admittedly, this means the album is a slow-burner. Many of these songs inch along almost apprehensively, with simple melodies that crawl through sheets of distortion. While the feelings it elicits are precise, the music can feel distant or samey before repeated listens. That’s not to say it’s without hooks or a defined sense of its emotional palette, but that the core of Will To Be Well is buried like the subject of its cover. Amidst the fragments of green, there’s still that splash of red, like the flash of the gem inside a stone.
One of the more immediate songs here, hair-rising standout “Someone Secure,” surges with excitement. Bright synth organs shimmer while the warm pulse of a heavily processed instrument persists like a heartbeat. The song is an outbreak of positive energy, one of the most lucid moments on an album that often drifts in a haze. It sounds like what this project could be if its makers believed in more than temporary comfort. But Dalhous seem unconvinced by easy answers and faulty narratives of recovery. After all, security fades, leaving us alone with our insecure thoughts, which — like this song cycle — can be forgettable and inscrutable, but also have the potential to reward once followed under the skin.
A song like “Thoughts Out Of Season” could only be the result of deep diving into oneself in pursuit of something to hold onto out of what seems ungraspable. The restless drums skitter and bounce, and the grainy synth buried deep in the mix has the strange calm and cold of an open meadow. There’s a motivating persistence in the percussion, even as it’s leading us through an eerie landscape. The song feels like the nervewracking work of keeping on, looking straight ahead with open eyes when disarray and doubt abound (and it does throughout the album).
Dall and Ander set out with un/clear aims and succeed, which results in music that feels fragmented, contradictory, uncomfortable at its core. But this faded self-consciousness is accompanied by a radiating, therapeutic warmth embedded in many of the songs. Obscured beneath layers of re-sampled noise, stopped short by a dreamy fadeout or left at the edges of the mix not even long enough to linger in your memory, the sounds of Dalhous take on suggestive power as they spend time with you, wandering the moors of interiority to find the temporary answers tumbling there.