Wwithout, styled w/o, is a Kalamazoo-based depressed-wave, noise-inspired solo project. Its creator formed the project as a method of “relatively safe self-expression” in response to their personal difficulties. Since 2015, they have released five albums. Their online persona is mysterious and vague; the presentation is obscure to the point that only a shadow of the creator’s personhood is revealed in little notes such as: “thanks 4 listening. luv u.” On its face, w/o comes across as computer-driven, non assumable, and even intimidating, yet the music evokes a symphony of raw individuality, complex and unnerving in its honesty. It divulges the profound nature of its creator’s internal machinations.
Heaven_Exists is composed of six songs, each less than one minute in duration. The initial presentation of the Bandcamp page and the track list suggests each title is independent of the rest. The second track is titled “✞5v̵̗̰̤͈v̢͇v̛͖̳v//everxtian,” and the third track is a website link to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, specifically to Ulcerative Colitis. The page itself is reminiscent of an early 00’s website and recalls the exuberant feeling of self-expression in online anonymity that first enamored outcasts from “real-life” social circles. The bandcamp page feels like a special recreation of that time with its tiled, one-image background, cool purple and blue tones, all-lower-case style, and the rapidly-declining emoticons.
In composition, the music is disarmingly cheerful on the surface, while the background conjures a sense of numinous, despairing emotions, that are sometimes more, sometimes less pronounced. Heaven Exists’ ambiguous lyrics convey anguished isolation and cautious hope; each brief melody strikes the listener with w/o’s very personal, internal conflicts.
The title of the first track, “thanatophobia.,., immersion therapy,” spells out the writer’s fear of death, the urge to overcome it by suicide, and the bitter cycle of suicidal tendencies. It features lyrics that mingle a nebulous gender identity with a combined sense of abandonment toward and enduring affection from the speaker’s subject. Musically, a recurring theme of merry piping mixed with a simple, light melody conjures a place in adolescence between the past of childhood innocence and the future of jarring, disillusioning adulthood. Accusative words mixed with a plaintive yet cheering background shocked me with its depth and detail in the short time of 58 seconds.
Going forward with the album, I found this to be a recurring case. Looking upon the 35 second “iamthatgirl (bubblegum mix)” and then “iamthatgirl (hexx64 edit),” I continued to be surprised at the emotion synthesized into tiny instants of time. “iamthat girl (bubblegum mix)” plays like a melodramatic poem and strongly recalls, once more, the early 00’s and the emo scene that flooded online through different mediums like AngelFire, LiveJournal, and, of course, MySpace. However, there is something, in half-second bytes, of a deeper anger that is concealed behind the anthem-sound that plays much louder as the vocals declare a single upswing of vindicated self-confidence that just as quickly descends to the lonesome place of half-nightmare, half-daydream thoughts of suicide.
“iamthatgirl (hexx 64 edit)” elaborates on the outrage which “(bubblegum mix)” first alludes. The lyrics are sped up to be incomprehensible, and an aggressive static yowling flushes over the composition like one of those terrifying, anxiety-filled nights when a statement and an action replay in the head, keeping its hostage awake with dread and frustration at how they might have better reacted in the moment.
Throughout the album, the songs move together in the overall melancholic emotion of w/o’s composition. Although it may come across as opaque, w/o successfully communicates a chilling, disjointed narrative. The second track strikes me as a response to the first; it offers a sort of consolation to “thanatophobia”‘s accusation. Its third track, that one which links to Ulcerative Colitis, is a vocal piece without decipherable lyrics and creates a sense of waiting, maybe of getting ready to go out for a night, or idling time in any number of scenarios.
The fifth song, “coloradosprings.mp4” (again, the recollection of an older time for online-expression, online-individuality, and self-recorded music in a basement) snaps both at homophobia and zealous pro-lifers who want to “bomb abortion clinics.” In its brevity, it does not suggest levity, but the spectrum of an individual’s thoughts that are often too complex to express ever all at once.
w/o is self-described as “an ongoing exorcism… some of the themes inherent are dark and potentially triggering.” When performing live, they hook up their laptop and mic to a PA, then “throw on a pre-arranged mix and just cry into a microphone for like 11 minutes.” The rapid highs and lows of their music, the brief statements of their lyrics, and the haunting effect of their compositions are quite as frightening as the perception of an exorcism. They possess an extraordinary talent for capturing the evasive individual, internal, stream-of-thought “bad thinking/shock therapy” consciousness that is frequently elusive but often sought in consummate self-expression. It’s a raw human horror, and it offers a startling reminder of each individual’s isolation within their own mind.
w/o will be performing at a local show in Grand Rapids on July 22 with SeeYouSpaceCowboy, and then taking a break from playing live.