Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light [A "live" experience] - Divine Styler - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #20

I always enjoy a challenge. Writing this blog, for example, is quite a challenge because unlike Steve I have practically no experience doing anything like this before. But damn it all, I enjoy it because it helps me focus on the music and search deep within my linguistic memory bank to find the words to describe the great music that I hear. It might be challenging, but it’s extremely rewarding, and most challenges are; from working hard for exams to practicing a piano piece to stoically plodding through Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in order to say that I’ve read it. (I’m probably most proud of that last one, although to say I understood any of it would be a downright lie) So today, I’m attempting another challenge; a musical one. I’ve done a bit of research and discovered this album: Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light by Divine Styler. I’ve heard that it’s notoriously experimental; deviating far from Styler’s original genre of hip-hop to incorporate elements of spoken word, noise, funk, electronic and rock music. All of the album is available on YouTube and I’ve glossed over a few tracks just to get a feel for it – it’s pretty weird. But I’ve never listened to it in full, and this is what I want to do now. I want to chronicle my thoughts as I listen to this album for the first time because I have a feeling I’m going to have a few choice words to say. So here we go…

Track 1: Am I An Epigram For Life?
Hmm, okay. We’ve got some weird sci-fi sounds going on in the background here, flitting in and out of earshot. It kind of reminds me of the middle of Hendrix’s 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be) with all the washes of eerie sounds, only there are no drums here. Styler is mumbling and laughing like a madman… this is odd. It’s just less than 2 minutes though.

Track 2: Touch
Starts with a bass making the sound of a heartbeat not unlike the beginning of Dark Side Of The Moon. Oh, now we’ve settled into a nice little groove here with a very bizarre synth riff. Styler is sort of singing, sort of speaking, sort of whispering. Wait, now the groove has broken down and he’s shouting “Feel for the freedom!” Oh wow, the beat’s changed, now the drums are thumping along with a pounding bassline! This is pretty awesome. Styler might be singing, he might be rapping? It’s hard to tell. I rather like this track, especially the end of it.

Track 3: In A World Of U
Once again, we’ve got another complete change of style. This is a full-fledged rock song, very 80’s, with a groovy bassline, jazzy drums and spiraling guitar. Styler’s singing is gentle and adoring: “You smell of a scent that I don’t have any more.” (I should mention that this album was made after Divine Styler’s conversion to Sunni Islam, and many of the pieces are supposedly in praise of Allah/Mohammed. Knowing this, I can’t help but think that that lyric might be “you smell of ascent,” in which case, that’s quite clever.) The instruments keep jamming, locked in their loose groove until the end. These songs just keep getting better and better, and they’re not too weird. (yet)

Track 4: Love, Lies and Lifetime’s Cries
Oh, well I spoke too soon. This one opens with Styler knocking on the door and sobbing: “They won’t let me back in…” then screaming “LET ME IN!!” To be fair, I wouldn’t let him in either with his insane, psychotic ranting. We’re now into a very dark, schizophrenic track, with buzzing, distorted synths and high pitched electronics. It reminds me very much of the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now or 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The vocals are spoken musings, and again Styler sounds quite insane with his laughter and spaced-out mumbles. The ending is rather paradoxical, with a lovely optimistic soft synth but with disturbing knocking noises and Styler singing “let me out!” This seems to be a hugely personal track, displaying his feelings of isolation.

Track 5: Livery
After a brief flurry of drums, we’ve actually got a hip-hop beat! Wow, it only took 5 tracks. And there’s actually rapping over it! Excitement. It’s not standard by any means as there’s still some weird ambient noise in the background along with some great wah-wah guitar, but it’s probably the closest to a “normal” track I’m likely to hear on this album.

Track 6: Grey Matter
Opening with some non-descript electronic-sounding woodwinds, the track kicks into another hip-hop beat. Sounds like a live bass in the background. Those woodwinds keep coming back again. This might be hip-hop, but it’s hip hop Divine Styler’s way, and that’s about as unique as you’re going to get.

Track 7: Heaven Don’t Want Me And Hell’s Afraid I’ll Take Over
Firstly, that’s a great name for a track. This one’s over 9 minutes long; I have a feeling it’ll be quite a haul. At around the minute mark it’s taking on a heavy rock sort of feel with a menacing drum beat and constant guitar buzzing. Got some odd electronics coming in here too. Oh, now the drums are gone and we’ve got Styler half-speaking half-singing about Allah. This is pretty difficult stuff… but I’m interested. I have to admit it’s a very bold thing he’s doing here, making this album so personal. There’s some really beautiful piano coming in here now, and the whirring electronics are surrendering to the new-found beauty in this song. “I often crumble and I’m often taken apart, I’m often broken down, spilled on the ground, and still I cloud myself with awe.” This last part of the song is truly a dedication to Allah and is really very moving.

Track 8: Mystic Sheep Drink Electric Tea
Argh, my ears! This song starts with some very processed guitar before Divine Styler’s vocals come in. He’s double tracked his voice and processed it to the point where it sounds like industrial noise, and not only that but he’s screaming the vocals. This is intense and pretty difficult to listen to… Nine Inch Nails-esque beat coming in now, POUNDING into my brain. Walls and walls of noise with a bass guitar that sounds like it’s on a murderous spree of bloody revenge. So far none of the tracks have sounded much the same, but this is totally different and easily the most difficult thing so far.

Track 9: Width In My Depth
What? After the last track of rage-filled noise, this is going the way of an acoustic ballad? Lovely acoustic guitar and tapped percussion, soft synths and Styler’s voice relaxing and gentle. Yep, thus it ends, an acoustic ballad through and through. That was really nice.

Track 10: The Next
I don’t get this album at all. It’s as if Divine Styler opted to make an album with each track exploring a different genre. Here we’ve got a very 60’s soul-jazz sound with a groovy Hammond organ. It’s even got that sort of chord progression. The lyrics are the by-now-typical mix of praise of Allah and stream-of-consciousness ramblings. I guess after the metaphorical battering ram that was Mystic Sheep Drink Electric Tea, Styler reckons we need two more down-tempo songs to recover.

Track 11: Euphoric Rangers
The tracks at this point seem to be getting a bit more “conventional” in the sense that they’re sticking to the same sort of themes and sounds throughout. This one’s evolving around the same drum fill and gentle synth, although oddly this is really hard to confine to a genre. I have no idea how to describe this. It’s quite beautiful though.

Track 12: Walk Of Exodus
Bit more of an atmospheric, epic sort of rock track here with more virtuosic displays of overdriven electric guitar. Other than that, nothing much to speak of here. It sounds like it would be a very fitting closer, but there’s still one more track…

Track 13: Aura
REALLY dark and atmospheric. Ominous synths, chants of “aura, aura, aura” in the background. Styler once again directing his voice from calm whisper to frenzied cry. The track, and thus the album, ends on some freeform noise experiments on the electric guitar and (presumably?) sythnesizer. Really a bit of an anticlimax, actually, but I guess it gives the album some sort of thematic link as the first track was quite similar.

So what? This was one heck of a weird experience, but to be honest the weirdness is mostly due to the fact that the songs are so stylistically different. Apart from a few songs (notable Love, Lies and Lifetime’s Cries and Mystic Sheep Drink Electric Tea) the actual music itself isn’t completely out there, and much of it is very enjoyable. I think it deserves its reputation as being ludicrously experimental, but I don’t think it’s inaccessible because of it. Deeply personal and taking us through a rollercoaster ride of emotions, it might not be understandable at first but it begins to make a bit more sense as you accept what’s going on and just enjoy the music.

Words - Adam

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