Review: Sailors With Wax Wings – S/T

I’m a little confused as to why I’ve only recently heard about this one. Sailors With Wax Wings is the brand new project of Pyramids’ R. Loren, accompanied by a line-up that sounds as though it was crafted for me personally – Ted Parsons (Swans, Godflesh, Jesu), Aidan Baker (Nadja), James Blackshaw (Current 93), Simon Scott (Slowdive), Dominick Fernow and Hildur Gudnadottir are amongst the musicians offering their services here. Oh, and not to mention David Tibet on artwork duty. Part of me is quite grateful for the fact that it’s managed to veer clear of my attention up until its release date – to place such a glorious line-up alongside an agonising wait would see my expectations soar to intangible levels.

As it is, the album is rather good. Each contributor has their input masterfully placed in amongst the music, leaving nothing jutting uncomfortably out of place. Listen carefully and you can take pretty firm guesses as to who is doing what – Blackshaw’s fluid piano arpeggios, Fernow’s white noise spillages – but for much of its duration, SWWW manages to sound like a most seamless and tightly unified beast.

It sounds like the hazy expanse of Pyramids brought into focus – whereas Loren’s main project takes no caution in spinning you dizzy in a bewildering multi-colour carousel, SWWW is slower and more approachable. It’s not “stripped back” exactly, and there’s certainly a shoegazing element to the dreamy layering and soft angelic vocals, but the melodies are sturdy and vivid here. In Pyramids, they’re often ferociously uprooted by the sonic chaos surrounding them.

Tremolo guitar forms the basis of many of the tracks, soaring in distorted bursts over the lumbering, mammoth-like beats of Parsons and the effect-drenched vocal in male/female harmony. All of this is nicely employed during “Yes, I Have A Thousand Tongues…”, during which an ominous, slave-ship stomp thumps in a dark three-chord riff. But the transition into the second half is unexpected – the track becomes poppy and sparse, fronted by a delicate (and slightly romantic?) vocal harmony duet. It’s moments like these that keep SWWW afloat, just when it appears to be delving too deeply into lumbering, melancholic drone-doom.

Some parts of the album are less enticing. “God Fashioned The Ship…” feels largely aimless as it tumbles into vacuous crescendo, which is a pity considering the gorgeous aquatic clean section before it. “There Was One Who Sought A New Road” begins to sound like a Blut Aus Nord bedroom rehearsal before too long (again, quite a shame because the last three minutes are stunning). In fact, the first half of this album is notably more hard-hitting than the second, though thankfully many of the weaker ideas on the last few tracks are saved by the top-quality moments dotted around them.

And so the project manages to be a success. I’m actually hoping that Loren pursues it with future releases – whilst being a highly enjoyable album, something about it feels like establishing the blueprints for further exploration. But I’m happy enough enjoying this solid debut in the meantime.