On his long-awaited debut full-length as oOoOO, Christopher Dexter Greenspan manages to curtail witch house’s inherent gimmickry and cartoonish parodies. Instead, Without Your Love finds the San Francisco-based producer successfully forging a refined suite that, while certainly unsettling at times, never loses its focused application of melody or fastidious approach to texture in the pursuit of cheap thrills.
When witch house first came to widespread attention at the tail-end of the noughties via a wave of acts (Salem, White Ring, Ritualz) peddling woozy atmospherics, after-hours malice and an overzealous use of religious iconography, it often felt a tad too concerned with pastiche and melodrama to be taken seriously. The sonic equivalent, if you will, of watching a poorly considered Nightmare on Elm St. sequel or reading a Goosebumps novel under the sheets as a kid, with only a flashlight for illumination. While Greenspan’s early EPs as oOoOO on Tri Angle and Disaro – remixes of Lady Gaga aside – always felt reasonably removed from the genre’s campier tendencies, Without Your Love marks his first true foray into murkier, more ambiguous waters as a songwriter and a producer.
Sure, it’s still not likely to rank alongside The Haxan Cloak’s cathartic Excavation or Pharmakon’s outwardly confrontational Abandon as one of 2013’s most unnerving releases, but its meticulous organisation and carefully cultivated aura make for a gripping record nonetheless. You only have to listen for how melodies and beats are dexterously mutated into one another to see the craftsman’s sheen on Without Your Love. Be that the way in which ‘3:51AM’’s swathes of sonar synths percolate through to the wayward southern hip-hop vibes of ‘Without Your Love’, or how ‘5:51AM’’s somnambulist chords are stretched into ‘Moonlight Sonata’-esque arpeggios on the album’s finale, ‘Across a Sea’: a track that evokes a similarly mournful disposition to the snail’s pace vocals and field-recorded guitar of 2010’s ‘No Shore’.
That’s not to say that Without Your Love is a record built solely around little moments of headphone joy, however. Whether it’s the boisterous, gothic midi organs of ‘The South’ filling out cathedrals with 8-bit choirs, or the infectious palm-muted guitar riffs that emerge late on in ‘Sirens//Stay Here’ – an allusion to the days Greenspan spent playing in all manner of bands as a teenager – much of it is greatly capable of worming through eardrums and setting up residence in the subconscious’s most cobwebbed recesses.
While there are certainly times on Without Your Love where Greenspan’s over-application of eerie temperaments and lofty layers of sampling can start to drag – the found sound, musique concrète of ‘Misunderstood’ or ‘Crossed Wires’’ uninteresting non-sequitur coming immediately to mind – these rarely detract from what is, at its core, a fascinating, contemplative and forward-thinking collection. One that not only rises beyond witch house’s – perhaps deserving – death knells, but greatly surpasses its limiting boundaries. It’s the mark of a producer breaking free from categorisation, pursuing a plethora of different sounds and ambiances, unrestrained but for the imagination that gives them grainy, nocturnal life.