When you’re awake late at night in the dark, sound has a strange way of filling in space. Unnameable noises (or possible noises) ring through your apartment. A warbling echo. A skitter. A hiss. A sound that seems unreal. A sound that reverberates, almost like music. A sound you then listen for, channeling it into phrases of chords, then a melody. A sound that becomes a soundtrack for your anxieties.
Between its intimate tonal consistency and remarkably wide-spanning scope, Silent Light —the sixth album of Chicago band Garden On A Trampoline (g.o.a.t.)—plays like the brave externalization of such a deeply internal soundtrack. Equal parts shoegaze, electropop, and unnameable noise, Silent Light is the strange, utterly singular soundtrack to the mind of Jim Laczkowski, who provides the lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation for this (and all other) g.o.a.t. albums. Though Jim is the project’s sole enduring member and synthesizing force, his songs always incorporate fragments from his numerous artistic inspirations, even including a collaborative track with one of his own students. Thus, each album is a personal portrait constructed from the collaging of his interests, the accumulation of many different voices.
Labeling this album diverse in its performative range would be a drastic understatement. At different moments, Silent Light contains resonances of Slowdive, Yo La Tengo, Max Richter, Jeff Buckley, They Might Be Giants, The Weather Channel, cartoon sirens, and evil demon voices (to provide only the most basic summary.) Acoustic guitar and ukelele co-mingle with electronic synth, distorted noise, and sound effects. The liner notes of Silent Light reveal an equally disparate tapestry of influences, ranging from its title track—inspired by a Carlos Reygadas film of the same name—to its opening track, “Dream for Tomorrow”—a tribute to composer Angelo Badalamenti—to the track “Thirsty For Everything,” which quotes from a poem by Amber Tamblyn: “fade to black/then fade through that.”
The themes of Silent Light are also wide-spanning, but they never feel scattered. Rather, they feel strangely and beautifully embodied, direct transmissions of longing carried by Jim’s affectless voice. Herein, reflections on aging, mental illness, romantic frustration, evolving friendships, compassion fatigue, anger, and regret collide with the fear of an all-too-real coming apocalypse, an explosion of personal and political tensions. A basement flood destroys an accumulated history—“photograph album[s]…cigarettes…kept in coffee cans” just as the coming of “napalm springs” threatens to “burn the sky and your skin.” Jim’s lyrics are elegantly embodied, exploring his duplicitous progression as he “[tries] to find silence while screaming inside,” all while asking (both of himself and his current surroundings,) “are there any voices left/that can make any sense?” The impression is that of a desperate plea as it’s knowingly swallowed by darkness: “Some of us never wanted this,” Jim sings on his track “Dark Matters,” “but your wish for apocalypse is granted.”
Yet we are carried through these dark strains by a constant undercurrent of tenderness and playful humor, a much-needed (and very earnestly delivered) lightness. Harrowing reflections are interrupted by ridiculous vocal impersonations of siren sounds—“weeooweeooo!” The album’s devastating emotional apex is tempered by a goofball follow-up track, a joke version of Elvis Presley’s “Falling in Love,” titled “Falling Asleep.” Even when facing the most formidable forces of darkness, Jim is—first and foremost—a collage artist, and this collaging quite naturally incorporates irreverent satire, parody, and plain silliness. As the prevailing tone of g.o.a.t.’s Silent Light suggests: the whole world is sick and the end is nigh; don’t take it too seriously.