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Torn Hawk - Through Force of Will

Brooklyn’s Torn Hawk masterfully merges tension and euphoria with his unique instrumentals.

Additional Info

7.5

ALBUM: Through Force of Will

ARTIST: Torn Hawk

2014

Electronic

Torn Hawk, the nom de plume of Brooklyn producer and video artist Luke Wyatt, has finally found the perfect record label that suits his warped take on dance music aesthetics. After two years of releasing bent-pop singles on several different record labels, he’s found a home on Aus-tralia’s Not Not Fun Records. A cursory glance at the label’s roster should be enough to convince anyone that this imprint from the land down under knows how to party, sci-fi disco style. Not Not Fun stalwarts Xander Harris, Dylan Ettinger and Jonas Reindhardt are not afraid to tout their John Carpenter meets Front 242 influences. While Torn Hawk may be rooted in similar territory (one look at the Through Force of Will’s album cover, a glitchy VHS still of Judd Nelson’s tri-umphant pose at the end of The Breakfast Club, seals that deal), he’s less concerned about what’s lurking in the shadows than his fellow labelmates. If anything, Torn Hawk is making instrumen-tals for the after-after-after party; it’s the perfect soundtrack for slipping on your shades and watching the sun rise.

Past releases have displayed Torn Hawk’s ability to blend decrepit dance thumps with cinematic flair effortlessly, but on this album he’s traded in much of the Balearic bombast for shimmering Edge-like guitar tones and motorik beats. On some tracks he’s like a one-man Mogwai, on others it feels like he’s been liberally dipping into Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. Opening track and clarion call “I Am Returning” is a six minute, easy tempo number with bubbling synths, a simple 808 dance-beat and genuinely pretty guitar work. Not Not Fun is easily the de facto home to ret-ro synths at the moment; hearing an actual guitar shimmer and squeal is a refreshing surprise.

It doesn’t take long for the album to get dirty. The wittily titled “Damage With Jeremy Irons” is rife with damaged and crippled tape loops, melancholy chord structures, and shrieking guitar so-los. There’s a fanfare undercurrent to this track that’s reminiscent of the Olympian strides of U.K. noise darlings Fuck Buttons. Its a stark contrast with it’s follow-up tune “Palace Racket,” an aptly named track showcasing Torn Hawk’s affinity for old-school acid house sounds. This is as acces-sible as it gets on the album; with it’s strong opening of almost Bhangra-like beats, zigzagging guitar riffs and rusty 90’s feel, it’s akin to 808 State discovering the “decay” button.

But Torn Hawk is at his strongest when he’s merging lumbering synth riffs with choppy guitars, something he handles well on “Streets On Fire.” Tough guy action-film auteur Walter Hill di-rected a similarly named film in 1984 titled Streets of Fire, a stylized picture linking 1950s set pieces with an 80s color palette. Think MTV Film Noir, and that’s exactly what Torn Hawk manages to encapsulate with this track. It’s a sonic trip down rain-soaked back alleys that would appeal to both soundtrack fans and denizens of smoke-filled Goth clubs. While most of the al-bum has a hopeful tinge, this number, along with the New Order meets Can “To Overthrow”, is a nice balance to the sunny vibes Through Force of Will radiantly emits. “A November Mission” is like a Cold War submarine combing the depths of dangerous waters and finally breaching sur-face in Ibiza. It’s an ominous number at first, with a front-and-center synthesizer squelch that al-most sounds like Morse Code until it’s washed away in a flash of captivating guitar work.

When he’s not producing music, Lucas Wyatt is a video artist. He calls what he does “Video Mulch,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. If you’ve been on Tumblr for than a minute, chances are you’ve seen his work or .gifs and .jpegs that are similar in nature. Wyatt delves deep into the dustbins for VHS oddities and distorts the footage, overlays chintzy special effects that would make a public access producer blush and ultimately produces entrancing video collages. His au-dio output is a natural extension of that work, and the tracks that make up Through Force of Will is each in their own way a little film snippet that gradually completes a bigger picture.

“Streets of fire and seas of blue.”

1. I Am Returning
A perfect album opener, and it’s hard not to imagine the opening credits of a 1980s movie bathed in neon while listening to it. Synths bubble and burst, and the guitars are light and breezy, like The Edge from U2 playing on the front porch while having a couple of beers.9.0
2. Damage for Jeremy Irons
I’m giving this a high score on the name alone. It’s as if Torn Hawk didn’t want any confusion regarding the lightness of the first track. It features decrepit loops in the forefront, but underneath the burbling mess there’s an intriguing undercurrent, and it finally simmers to the surface with a synth line reminiscent of Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire.”9.5
3. Palace Racket
One you can dance to, and the one that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Torn Hawk is showing his acid house influences on this one, and the washed out guitars and house music piano riffs only add to those awkward Buddha Bar vibes.6.0
4. Hutchison
The calm after the “Palace Racket” storm. The shortest track on the album, “Hutchison” is a serene intermission, a Board of Canada-like soundscape. What almost sounds like a harpsichord balances nicely with washes of synth.8.0
5. Streets On Fire
The beginning of the darkness. With a classic 808 drumbeat, the song wastes no time getting down to the nitty gritty with it’s ominous synth chords and dirty guitar riffs. It’s one of the most cinematic tracks on an album chock-full of soundtrack odes, but it never feels like an imitation. It takes Mogwai four more guys to pull off a sound like this.10.0
6. A November Mission
Like Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Sea,” this track is an aquatic mission to and from the surface of the sea. Washed out, underwater guitars play back and forth with the synth leads come off like a Morse Code version of “The Safety Dance.”9.5
7. To Overthrow
This one is another quasi-dance number, but closer to New Order than the world beat of “Palace Racket.” Torn Hawk smartly overlays shrieking guitar noodling over the proceedings, so while it’s a little on the dark side, the guitars add a colorful psychedelic touch. Can’s Michael Karoli would be proud.10.0
8. Through Force of Will
The title track is the longest, clocking in at just under eight minutes. Guitars are at the forefront, shimmering and cascading before finally plateauing. This is Torn Hawk shoe gazing, and it mostly works, but doesn’t quite hit the mark.5.0
9. Blindsided
And the reason the last track comes off lackluster is because “Blindsided” is it’s overshadowing partner. It starts off where the title track ends, on a plateau of overlaying gui-tar lines. “Blindsided” picks up the slack and wraps the entire album in a bow. It’s a little bit of everything you’ve heard throughout, and the perfect, optimistic closer.10.0
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