Union and ReturnApril 13, 2016 Mexican Summer
Union and Return is the third album from Luke Wyatt’s Torn Hawk. It was composed and recorded entirely by Wyatt at his home in Berlin.
At the height of the 19th century Romantic movement Germany was, in many disciplines, at the center of things, and Berlin’s museums are full of works by painters like Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Caspar David Friedrich. For Wyatt, seeing these images inspired a turn toward Romantic themes. With their elegiac, idealized landscapes, the paintings offer a visualization of Wyatt’s intentions on Union and Return. They are otherworldly and melancholic; tranquil, yet jarring.
Wyatt grew up in New Jersey, but Torn Hawk was largely conceived during years spent in Washington, D.C. and New York. In the former, he was an outlier nurtured by the fringe-boogie label Peoples Potential Unlimited. Later, living in Brooklyn, Wyatt found a sympathetic clique amid the city’s re-emergent underground dance community, leading to several well-received releases with L.I.E.S.
In earlier Torn Hawk releases, familiar gestures and sounds – a sleazy riff, a lush synth stab, a gated snare hit – were stripped from their original context, mulched, and repurposed as a foundation for deeply zoned guitar playing. The results were always distinctive, sometimes unsettling, and often sublime.
On his 2014 full-length, Let’s Cry and Do Pushups at the Same Time, distortion and degraded fidelity dominate, smashed and beaten up sounds that Wyatt refers to as “distressed textures.” With Union and Return, Wyatt parts the gauze that shrouded his former work to reveal a lush and ornate set of compositions — elegantly orchestrated, awash in unguarded emotion, and unspoiled by irony.
Having spent years working with gritty production techniques, Wyatt seems refreshed and restored by the possibilities of definition and detail. Many tracks on Union and Return were initially composed on piano and then painstakingly fleshed out into final form. Yet, the feel is spontaneous, rather than labored, and the pieces possess an organic and grid-less grace. On album opener “The Romantic,” the flow of ideas is natural, seamlessly transferring melodies and themes from voice to voice, instrument to instrument. Orchestral arrangements give way to layered guitars, smeared pads and collaged digital detritus.
While the record luxuriates in subtle, delicate dynamics, Union and Return is just as disruptive as anything in the Torn Hawk back catalog. Tracks like “Feeling is Law” and “Die Swimming in the Sea Here” supply a full-bore tenderness that can be uncomfortable, especially for those projecting a policed gruff or “masculine” image. This disruption is key to the music’s intent. Union and Return presents gentle music as a tough gesture.
Romanticism is preoccupied with the mythic hero — his journey, struggle, and demise. In Romantic literature, the hero’s death indicates the passing of time, an old order giving way to a new world. Union and Return marks a similar transition – a shift in execution and a shedding of skin, the passing of an era and the pursuit of tomorrow’s ideal.