If the song is strong enough, it can transcend anything. It can cut through the fog of antiquity like a lighthouse beam. It can rise above the wounds of mistreatment, powered by a melodic strength that obliterates any symptoms of physical weakness. The songs are William Ryan Fritch are sincere and bold, sung with a confessional grandeur that could fill up gigantic concert halls, escorted by orchestral strings and thunderous percussion that quiver with the electricity of his every emotional sentiment. On “A Slow Collapse”, his wailing falsetto hangs in the air in search of response, driven by a loneliness whose desire for company only just overcomes the inclination to burst into tears. On “Blue Birth”, voices and strings spew upward in a fountain, parting into harmony and then dovetailing back into tonal alignment, falling somewhere between gospel hymn and the theme music to a desert mirage.
Yet the production of Clean War is that of a cassette excavated from layers of compacted earth, caked in mud and bleeding tape from both spools. These songs have to fight to be heard against a medium that threatens to rip their wondrous orchestration into incommunicable obscurity. If the songs aren’t strong enough then the erosion will win: snapping strings away from the bodies of violins and harps, muffling adoring phrases until they become husks of empty vowel. And while there are countless textural details lost to the fidelity – orchestral sweeps crushed between thunderous percussion on “Our Strange Progression”, lyrical sibilance muffled into somnolent hush on the title track – Fritch’s core sentiments always remain intact. I never lose the ability to hear him, and I never fail to understand. Instruments may fade and wilt under the noise, but Fritch’s melodies radiate with a timeless vibrancy, hammering against the descending ceiling of tape decay until I can’t ignore their declarations any longer.