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Sensuous Beauty Lurks Behind the Eccentricities of Harvest Rain’s “Nightwave”

The tenth track on Harvest Rain‘s Nightwave opens, in a verité style, with the sound of central creative member Jason Thompkin‘s voice:  “Okay. ‘Needles of God,’ take one,” he says. And the song begins, unashamedly using a first take in the final mix. This moment says much about the album, the way it was made, the way it sounds, and the attitude that it is meant to convey.

The music is conspicuously self-recorded, oddly formulated, and anything but overworked. The result is a series of tracks that, at first, don’t sound quite right. The guitars are often murky. In contrast, the electronic drums are sometimes too clear. The unrehearsed pacing of the vocals is only partially masked by the generous application of echo effect.

All of these elements give Nightwave a rough, at times even amateurish sound. But any familiarity with Harvest Rain or the personality of Jason Thompkins makes it clear that typical standards of critique aren’t exactly appropriate. Thompkins is a man full of complex eccentricity, which seems to have informed the production of this album in a way that isn’t perfectly obvious. However, once the album is accepted on its own terms, it does yield its gifts, subtle though they may be.

Jason Thompkins

Other Harvest Rain releases have offered a much tidier fusion of post-punk and neofolk. Nightwave, though, seems to be the result of an attempt to capture something different. A sense of this can possibly be achieved by comparing the third track, “Corpse Candle,” with the same song as it is presented as the eighth track of the album October Chase:  “Corpse Candle (Original).” The revisitation on Nightwave is set apart by the light application of interesting guitar noise and also a layer of female vocals that issue a stage-whispered shadow to Thompkins’s own vocals (this element actually persists throughout the album, to mostly good effect). The electronic drums and melodic bass guitar lines are less dominant in this new version, too, probably as a result of the additional sounds. The value of these differences needn’t be judged, necessarily. The comparison does, though, illustrate the types of new ideas that have been applied in the creation of Nightwave.

Similarly, as Harvest Rain’s music has often been called “haunting” and “ghostly,” there is still a type of darkness to this album of a different quality than previous work. Much of this darkness dwells within the sound, notably in such elements as the dirge-anthem keyboard line of “Weightless” or the reverberating churn that backs the spoken-word presentation of “Christblossoms.” These and other evocative riches populate the entire album, lurking beyond the rough eccentricities that might spoil first impressions of the music.

There is certainly an unusual type of beauty to this music, which may well owe its existence to the mixture of adept composition and imperfect execution. The greatest beauty of Nightwave, though, is in its lyrics. A consistent tone in the words renders the album, as a whole, with a feeling of gothic moonlight. This tone reaches a peak multiple times in lines that exhibit Thompkins’s knack for condensed sensuality, such as “the stars in this river move / the tealights float, lit” in “Window Glow,” or “adoration of Autumn’s decay / the smell of lawn fires” in “Christblossoms.”

While the lyrics express a delicate romanticism, there is virtually no reference to Thompkins’s political or occult concepts. The liner notes do describe some manner of personal mythology which bear a hint of intriguing esotericism. These notes, however, remain mostly cryptic. As with the rest of the album, the paragraphs inside the digipak seem to hide their riches below a difficult lattice of eccentricity.

Track List:

01) Learn to Worship this Sickness
02) Nightwave
03) Corpse Candle
04) Christ Blossoms
05) Window Glow
06) Broken Mirror
07) Antique Powdered Sleep
08) Weightless
09) Bloated Body Burning
10) The Needles of God
11) Nightwave II
12) The Path Is Withered, Rotten and Deceased

Written by: Matthew Carey
Label: OPN (France) / OPNCD0029 / CD
Neofolk / Gothic / Coldwave