It would be only natural to assume that having released himself from the complexities of the sonic world of Karda Estra, that Richard Wileman’s current musical vehicle, essentially a duo with Amy Fry, would result in some much more simply drawn music. And to some extent it does, but of course everything is relative. If Karda Estra was too big a logistical challenge to ever be a live concern and the recent run of acoustic shows often felt like wonderfully deft sonic sketches in comparison, on album the music falls into a wonderful middle ground between the two.
Arcana, as the name suggests, is loosely themed around the Tarot card deck, which seems perfect for the shaded musical threads and air of mystique which Richard has always been able to neatly weave through his music. But whereas many would turn such a subject into a cliched faux-horror soundscape, believable only by fans of the likes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, here we experience something truly gothic. Here we find songs which sound as if they are the musical accompaniment to the writings of Arthur Machen or H.P. Lovecraft, haunting and ominous rather than playing any of the more obvious musical cards. Pun intended.
After London seems to drift rather than be propelled, perhaps reflecting the victorian smogs which concealed so much of the unknown and The Devil is the perfect musical representation of a brooding presence, one gradually gaining ground on the listener before finally exploding in a diabolical array of otherworldly organ salvos. And, although often providing everything from beguiling accompanying harmonies to disembodied choral affects, The Star puts Amy’s vocal prowess in the spotlight to glorious affect. A simple, delicate and utterly gorgeous piece and hopefully an indication of more to come in such a role.
But not all songs here are forged from arcane acoustica and classical melancholia, dark ambience and a spot of avant-gardening. Pilot is a perky, 60’s-infused jaunt, with just enough strange idiosyncrasies to make it fit right in, How It All Ended is also driven by the same retrospective tones and Night of The Living Doll runs between shadowed psychedelia and hazy, lucid-dream pop.
Between the two of them, these musicians cover a lot of ground, but that is the difference between composing and arranging, and merely song-writing, I guess. There is an ornateness to the music, a real depth to the rich textures that they splice together and a wonderful uniqueness to the overall feeling, even given the not inconsiderable back catalogue of music Richard Wileman has which skirts around the same sonic territories. Most of all, the music here sounds like it would translate with only minor adaption to the live stage.
Karda Estra may have been the Richard Wileman music you went for when you wanted to revel in baroque soundscapes and exquisite orchestral arrangements. It turns out that with only a slight change of approach Arcane is not only a fantastic album, but it is the Richard Wileman, and of course Amy Fry, that you get when you want to experience such music in the live setting.