Local musician/composer Danny Peck (aka dep) is prolific — that’s nothing new. But his most recent album, the moody/breathless/tender/atmospheric Ever Looming is something special. “I truly feel as if this is a culmination of my entire creative journey up to this point,” Peck says on his website. “I’ve spent the last 16 years finding my voice as an artist, producer and musician, and this album really feels, to me, like the music I’ve been wanting to write since I started.”
I was just reading a quote by Neil Gaiman about creativity: “Saying that there are enough writers out there, enough directors out there, enough people with points of view, well, yeah, there are. But none of them are you, And none of those people are going to make the art that you are going to make. None of them are going to change people and change the world in the way that you could change it.” It’s a great quote. But Peck says the same thing far more eloquently (and without words) from his opening track, “Stretched for Home.”
The song is so pretty that it almost hurts. Not initially. It starts off with slow, round tones. Grey dawn, gentle rain. Chimes and organ, and then the spritely jog of strings. Strings that dance and others that float, and still other instruments that swirl as the rhythms and patterns of the song grow more complex. But not necessarily tighter. This is a spiraling in, but not a tightening, which is kind of a metaphor for spiritual growth and the process of gaining expertise. We spiral around a theme, gaining increasingly more subtle knowledge with each pass until, eventually, what was a single organ in a vast room becomes an entire symphony playing inside a single shining raindrop.
“Last Known Surroundings” features Stephanie Morgan on vocals. It’s the album’s only vocal track, yet even here what is sung is not lyrics but sounds. Morgan’s voice is another instrument, another texture for Peck to layer. The track builds into a gale, its staccato notes and the distant thunder of percussion coming in waves and howling crests.
But even as the songs build to explosive apexes, they are also exercises in control. Or, not control so much but discernment. How to hold the kite string so that the kite dances on the wind without tearing free or crashing to earth. There’s that kind of deft balance at play. And a lissome touch throughout. In the heaviest blasts of “Steep Hills of Tears,” which is all upheaval and tumult, there’s a lightness that lends ballast.
That song is followed by the more delicate “The Sun Has Gone Dim,” a lush orchestration of chimes and strings. And there are other quieter songs — “A Faithful Reprieve” marries dreamy soundscapes with spacey, slightly glitchy warbles. “Eg Anda,” the album’s longest track, builds slowly, taking its time through snare drum rolls and soft-focus fields of melody. But even at its emotional pinnacle, the song maintains its ethereal glimmer. And the final song, “Album Blank Pages,” is a warm immersion in golden-hued tones.
“5am,” near the end of the album, is a standout track. The poignancy of the violin by guest musicians David Sabogal is remarkable. Violins are emotive instruments, but Sabogal lets his go nearly ragged in places, conveying feeling through that raw and real voice, that instrumental hoarseness.
“Burnout Awakening” is another standout. Low strings are paired with thick drums. The rhythms builds in velvety washes that feel more noble than urgent. There’s a thrum of static, a march of snare and the resonance of a bell. It’s a hero’s journey. “Still One Direction” shares much of that sense of largess. Again, the beat is a key player — here, it’s both tribal and military. The fuzzed-out melody seems to leap from and then melt back into its dark netherworld. And then the last minute or so — My god.
As I write it, it sounds ridiculous to say that Peck is, in essence, retooling classical music for electronica, and for the 21st century. Because of course there are electronica-classical and modern-classical composers. And still. There’s something here. Peck’s quest for truth and self-realizion, his absolute dedication to artistry, his pop-melody prowess, his unique palette.
What I said earlier about Looming being so pretty that it almost hurts is also not quite right. It actually hurts a lot, and I’m not even sure why. The music hits at a place of nostalgia, a memory of something not yet come to pass. Something wonderful and dearly missed, but also something sublime. It touches on the parts of being human that are jagged and stormy, hard to contain and explain but, as soon as they’re recognized, absolutely imperative.
But this is what music (and all great art, really) is meant to give us. Some information about what it is to be human, and some sense of the greater purpose beyond day-to-day mundaneness. And greater connection — to nature, to spirit, to those around us. To hope. Possibly to despair, too — to our capacity to despair, because Looming is made dynamic by its bruises as well as its gasps of wonder — but it’s an album that returns ultimately to hope, over and over.
Album cover art by Janice Peery.