Darren Michael Boyd’s sophomore effort, Wonders Of The Invisible World, is everything as a music fan you would hope it could be. Abrasive, angry, uncompromising, wide-ranging. Part of Boyd’s craft is his ability to fuse sound with seemingly autobiographical influences. His debut solo album, aptly titled Lifting The Curse, was inspired by a life-altering accident and subsequent strenuous road to recovery. The term blood sweat and tears would not be an exaggeration for the creation of the album, as in the height of recovery Boyd wrote, produced, arranged, and performed every piece of music on the album himself, with the exception of help from friend and colleague Emily Dolan – a prominent rock drummer affiliated with singer Kim Wilde. The success of this hardscrabble effort led to his second solo release, which with distance from the incident has a slightly more contemplative, if still raw and bloody aesthetic.
There’s an eeriness that hovers over Wonders for just that reason. Whereas Curse arguably came from the gut, Wonders has that haunting tint similar to productions musical and otherwise reflecting on tragedy. The first few tracks at the beginning of the album, title highlights including ‘Earth Pads’ and ‘Night of the Neurotoxins’, share a fairly uniform cheeriness. Yet there’s something distinctly unsettling about said cheeriness – like the calm before the storm. Sure enough, that storm comes – in the form of track four, titled ‘Making a Homuculus’.
With exactly the same instruments minus the inclusion of a waif-like cry and a Gothic-styled keyboard ambiently playing in the background, this is a peak transitional moment in the record’s rhythm and flow. The prescient bass featured on the otherwise upbeat, preceding tracks takes full effect here – illustrating a sense of melancholy and longing that will make one’s heart sting. It’s here we think of Boyd looking back at his lowest point – the evocative title of the track only twisting the knife deeper. But Boyd isn’t interested in leaving us with a victim stance. The last few tracks on the album return to rocker form, expressing a kind of pure outrage and resilience that more than elevates Wonders to a cinematic level.
One of the highlights on this part of the recordis the track ‘Ice Storm’. It’s arguably a companion piece to ‘Homuculus’. While ‘Homuculus’ is all about writhing in the darkness, ‘Ice Storm’ seems to be about fighting for the light. The song assembles the same instruments and structure of ‘Homuculus’, but tears the latter down as the guitar roars over any sentimental ambience the track has to offer. The juxtaposing sounds are harsh enough to shake any lasting effects of the album’s middle tracks. Boyd is screaming here, refusing to go down without a fight. And we’re feeling that with him. In effect, this is what makes the album such a strong effort.
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The contrast between the first two halves of the musical composition arguably creates the equivalent to a three-act structure. If the first part of Wonders is about freedom and childish naïveté, then the second half must be about trauma and pain. This leaves the third arguably to be about survival, resilience, and righteous anger. Boyd doesn’t spell this out with actual lyrics sung, almost all of the tracks are instrumental. But what he does prove by sheer arrangement alone is a writhing, chameleonic depth to a record that could otherwise simply be another effort for someone mistaking cacophony for art. Not only does Boyd not do that, but he finds a way to put his own stamp on a timeless genre. Kudos to that.