Given that the last time I had Daniel Angelus under my pen it was to write about an album called Act I, it wasn’t entirely unexpected that I should now find myself with a new album titled Act II in front of me. What wasn’t expected was how much he had moved things on since last time. It is fair to say that the core sound and musical vibe isn’t that far removed from its forerunner but there is something in the scope and broadness of vision found here which not only makes it the worthy successor but the vehicle which takes things to new heights. And not just heights but breadths, depths and possibly even pushing through into parallel dimensions which only exist in the sonic world.
Perhaps the best place to start with his rendition of the U2 classic, With or Without You, which is found here, because it is by comparing something familiar with his own interpretation of how to build on such an iconic song that you get an insight into the way that his musical mind works. The original is a powerful and anthemic piece, shot through with romance and resilience, a song about reconciliation and reflection and what is so great about this version is that it gets to the essence of the song using so few musical brushstrokes. In some ways it feels like an exploded diagram of the original, showing the various core structures apart from the whole and in doing so creating an amazing framework which only underlines and highlights the intensity of the lyrics.
An odd place to start, especially for an album of original music but it is this exception which proves the rule which helps us to really get to the heart of what Daniel Angelus does. Opening salvo, I Am Dead Inside, is a similarly minimal and slow-burning number, bruised and brooding, soaring and searing, the perfect way to lay the path into this album. Sertraline is somehow even more understated yet increasingly more powerful, growing from an industrial growl into a primal and poised synth epic.
At the other extreme, Artificial is a more beat driven dance-dirge, one where the lyrics are often shrouded in the washes of synth swirling around it and with a jittering drum frisson which adds a wonderfully nervous energy. The album ends with Rapture, an almost spiritual duet with Amii Dawes which explores love, longing and loss, regret and remorse but does so in the most intimate and touching fashion.
Act II is a stunning album, one which does so much with so few, well-chosen sounds. It shines light into dark places, explores the emotional shadows and taps into the narratives of our troubled, nighttime thoughts. It touches on the musical territories of the likes of Nick Cave but views its chosen subjects through a dream-pop, ambient and occasional alternative-dance lens rather than his oft-squalling, apocalyptic blues.
But more than any else it is engaging. Engaging might seem an odd term for such a dark and brooding sound but there is no denying that Act II holds the listener in a cool yet beguiling embrace from start to finish. In a world where single-track downloads are king and the complex journey that an album can take you on seems a largely forgotten craft, replaced by quick hit music, throw-away singles and temporary fame via a style over substance stance, Act II is the perfect act of artistic rebellion.