I don’t often review instrumental albums, but when I do, it’s a rare joy when they are as beautiful as this first release from Washington DC artist Jon Wolper, aka They Danced Like Programmed Angels. Combining post rock, modern classical, and electronic textures into a gorgeous sonic melange takes serious talent, and this guy has the goods. The album was mixed and mastered by Eric Scholz and Wolper plays most instruments except for some percussion by Robert Christopher Manzo. Drums were engineered and recorded by Brian Hmelnicky. Wolper wrote the album sporadically over a period of 5 years. Pieces of songs, if not entire songs, came from years ago when he lived in different places and are offered up as unvarnished stories.
“Birdcage” is a majestic, modern classical piece, dominated by layers of echoing piano and punctuated by tastefully rendered beats and what sounds like programmed strings. I have no information beyond what is offered above, so I don’t know how Wolper architected this album. It’s wondrous and shimmering, and soon the opening track fades away. “A Home of Sand and Sun” is another lovely work of art, haunting and evocative with its moodiness.
Music feeds the soul, and Wolper’s work is cinematic and deeply moving. “Gathering Warmth” is another beautiful piano piece, and on some level, it reminds me of Italian composer Fabrizio Paterlini. “It Lingers” ups the ante a bit with some post rock, eerie at times but always hovering on gorgeous. The slow, graceful climb toward sonic oblivion starts in ambient splendor and suddenly explodes with pulsating drums and a wall of electric guitar. It is controlled fury, like waves being held back by a high sea wall. With less than a minute left, it eases itself back into quietude. The title track is barely more than a minute, and it touches the listener with feathery strokes before departing.
“Yesterday’s Only Thoughts” has distorted voices skittering in the background, adding a creepy layer to a mostly hushed song. It is somber and one cannot make out what the voice is singing. “All The Lives We Worshipped” could double as dream pop, and almost verges on psychedelia. I love the keyboard work on here, and wish the song was longer. “Spades” is spacey and has a cool, many-hued instrumental backdrop, piano scaling back all the layers and dominating this piece. “Through the Flurries, Tailswept, We Drove” sounds like Hammock wrote the song title, but the resemblance ends there. This is dark, throbbing and rather mysterious, but then it blooms into majestic bliss, drums moving back into the mix and driving things forward more urgently.The last song is “Stillness”, a short and deeply humming song, low notes bubbling up from the depths with broad sweeps of sound.
In summary, Jon Wolper has created a series of set pieces, each song standing out distinctly and resonating with the care and thought that went into this beautiful record. Recommended for fans of Slow Meadow, Fabrizio Paterlini, and Stars of the Lid.