You never know when music will be important. When avant-jazz act Yells at Eels and avant-metal act Pinkish Black entered the studio together in April 2018, there was no way they could have known that the tracks they would be laying down then would become the soundtrack to the isolation we have experienced in the past two months.
Vanishing Light in the Tunnel of Dreams is available now on Bandcamp through Ayler Records with a physical release scheduled May 22. An almost entirely instrumental album bringing out the very best of both bands, Vanishing Light employs the trumpet of Yells at Eels' Dennis Gonzalez as a kind of protagonist searching for its place in a dark, industrial landscape.
The two bands came together to make an improvisational recording, something with which Yells at Eels has much experience, unlike Pinkish Black. What we hear in the album's five tracks depicts the journey Gonzalez arrived at after finding his place among the four other musicians.
"I am just kind of a little lonely voice," Gonzalez remembers. "I was laying back and thinking, where do I fit? Are you filling up too much space? Are you taking too much time?"
Despite Dennis Gonzalez's intentions to lay back and let his sons Stefan and Aaron in Yells at Eels and Pinkish Black's Daron Beck and John Teague take the lead, Beck saw greater potential for Gonzalez's trumpet when he went back and mixed the album two years later.
"I think everything he plays is brilliant," Beck says of Gonzalez. "I was more concerned about hearing him than anything and having his parts really cut through everything else. Just to be able to play with that guy is very, very special to us and to play with Aaron and Stefan, too."
Beck was tasked with mixing the album after producer Stéphane Berland of Ayler Records reached out to Gonzalez about a different project.
"Dennis and I were checking on each other via email as we regularly do as friends," Berland says. "I needed Dennis’ authorization to publish an older recording I had of a Yells at Eels live show on the label’s YouTube channel. I have this habit to store many email conversations from friends and collaborators, and doing so, I saw an older one mentioning the recording with Pinkish Black, thus asked Dennis about it and what had become of it."
This began a 3 ½ week process to mix the tape, write the liner notes and find photos from the studio, which gave everyone involved a project to work on in the days of self-quarantining. The six members of the two bands and Berland stayed in close contact via messenger and email to bring the project into the light.
Being in isolation while working on the album ultimately inspired Beck to arrange the music in a way that reflected the loneliness and melancholy he now shared with the world.
Much of the album conjures images of the opening scene in Day of the Dead when Pvt. Miguel Salazar calls out into the empty city, "Hello? Is anyone there?" The atmosphere that sets is completely intentional, Beck says.
"There's a narrative there," Beck says of the album. "I was watching a bunch of zombie movies between all of it, and all of my music is very heavily goblin influenced. There's always some underlying, you know, zombie threat. ... I kind of love it and hate it at the same time. It's a weird world."
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The difference between the soundscapes Beck is used to creating with Pinkish Black and what we hear on Vanishing Light is that the outside threat the music is grappling with is real.
Though the music recorded that day two Aprils ago was never intended to be the soundtrack for a pandemic, Beck says that there is no way the music we hear today can escape its influence.
"Everybody's first introduction to the music is going to be when this is happening," he says. "Anybody that's going to go buy it and listen to it, it's going to be the soundtrack to at least a part of it."
"Music is strong enough to transcend time," Gonzalez adds. "It's a terrible time, but in our lives, it kind of came as a gift. I think that the music was patient with us. I think it waited for just the right time."