"The world's on fire and I don't feel a thing at all." Sung with a breezy nonchalance, Andrew Paley's prescient lyrics on "Caroline", including the admission "I've been raging at headlines", sound like they were written at the exact moment you're hearing them. On his second album Scattered Light, following 2016's Sirens, the Chicago-based musician looks to the future with a smorgasbord of experimental synths and AI-created music videos, while still tussling with the past and living in Trump-era America.
The album title itself is perhaps influenced by the book Darkness and Scattered Light by philosopher William Irwin Thompson, which looks at the future of civilisation, technology and mysticism. Contrastingly, Scattered Light serves as both a forward-looking effort and a scrapbook of the past, with a lyrical shout-out to the debut album of Paley's post-punk band The Static Age, Neon Nights, Electric Lives, being an unexpected addition to the album.
Scattered Light was originally slated for release earlier this year, back when the passage of time still felt like a tangible thing. Despite being written before the pandemic, the album bristles with fitting disillusionment and escapism, such as on "Back in the Valley", where Paley sleepily implores "Don't wake up, it was all a dream/Yes, everything". Intertwined synths with a Japanese influence mark "Stay Safe" as an album highpoint, while the despairing isolation that envelopes "Give Up" acts as a salve that grows from despondence to decisive action.
Saying that Scattered Light in its entirety is a snapshot of this year would be disingenuous, not only because it was largely written in previous years when Paley was in Chicago and in places all over the world when touring, but also because its subject matter will likely be as relevant years from now as it is in 2020. Grasping at moments of connection but being drowned out by the ever-present timbre of modern life, whether political or otherwise, drives the sound of Scattered Light. It's an album that tries to make sense of an unrecognisable, but not unfixable, world.
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