By Kyle Harcott
Blurring the lines between ambient, shoegaze, drone metal, post-rock and spoken word, the latest offering from Heinali and Matt Finney is a the kind of mindfuck that takes serious time-investment to let it properly get itself lodged beneath your skin. The Alabama/Ukraine collaborative duo has put out several stellar EPs together, despite having never met in person. Ain’t No Night may be their most compelling work yet, despite also possibly being their most dismal. I’ve been listening to the record nonstop since I received it at the end of June, and every time I listen, I pick up on something new I missed with each previous listen.
The collaboration almost acts as both film and soundtrack in one, with Heinali’s epic, amorphous score on Ain’t No Night complementing perfectly Finney’s grainy prose-as-monologue, with its miserable tales of worthless fathers and wretched women. His narration, on first listen, reminded me of that of the Daigoro character in the film Shogun Assassin; the voice of a jaded and weary innocence speaking at length on unspeakable things. It’s well-matched by Heinali’s intense, shape-shifting score, which transcends something as specific and perhaps gaudy as ‘genre’, preferring instead to properly encompass a mood. At times, there is a Lynchian/Badalamentian vagueness to most of Ain’t No Night, and I put it down to that complementary mix of music/narration; both with the work of Lynch/Badalamenti as well as here, one fits the other so perfectly it’s as if you couldn’t imagine them apart.
The lead track, ‘In All Directions’ initially contorts itself across noise-scorched landscapes, until a gloomy piano sweeps most of the noise away, and a crawling drum break kicks in a grandiose, lurching doom/drone parade with ambient guitar squalls over top, setting the mood for severe depression ahead. A toy piano takes the eleven-minute song home, with more of Matt’s crippling prose overtop. Complete despair by the time you hear the crows in the outro.
‘Tinderbox’ is next, immediately creeping where the last track instead lurched. The intro is a little noisier here, like the sound of an endless busy highway being driven at night, as if heard through a tube. Until the most doom-laden piano note ever played (since the last Stanley Kubrick soundtrack, anyway) introduces the next section of the song. Finney speaks again in abject depression, and a massive drum break almost mocks his misery with its thunder, taking us once again to a baleful, hypnotic guitar squall, all lament and loneliness. The song ends in a windswept vacuum, feeling unresolved, as misery often is.
The title track is next, slinks in swaying, dripping wet with ill-at-ease, black-dog blues, easily the most maleficent song of the four – its intent to cause harm not subtle or disguised whatsoever. A cruel, hot wind blows through the song’s center section, as our narrator enters, as always with razor-vicious observation, perhaps this time keen to cause a little pain himself, in deflection of that which has been inflicted upon him so far. There’s a different flavor of darkness here, a swaggering cruelty to ‘Ain’t No Night’ – it could have been Frank Booth’s theme song in Blue Velvet.
Last, ‘Hallelujah’ kicks in with a mournful, reflective piano intro, perhaps seeking redemption or some sort of resolution after all this misery and darkness; there is the faintest (but still wary) glimmer of hope heard here, and as the song progresses, this is emboldened by the accompaniment of pounding drum breaks and more wailing guitar. Definitely the most uplifting of the songs here, ‘Hallelujah’ works perfectly as the album-film’s epilogue, the song’s mood uplifted enough to put the previous misery of the album behind it, but still wise enough to know it could always get worse again.
Ain’t No Night is a spectacular record, unique and eclectic. Its rewards are deep, but they are demanding. I would recommend you give this latest by Heinali & Matt finney your full attention for a good long while.