The music of Reuben Sawyer is nomadic in spirit, passing through vast soundscapes and never settling in one place for too long. From drone pop and psychedelic krautrock to blackened punk, throbbing industrial, and ambient house, the prolific multi-instrumentalist has proven himself the master of many musical worlds in his spare time between design projects under the name Rainbath Visual. His latest solo endeavor, The Column, marks a slight departure from his previous undertakings yet still fits nicely in his ever-expanding body of work. Blending new wave nuance with synthpop sensibilities, Sawyer proves it doesn’t take a gang of four to create timeless and memorable post-punk.
With Oracle, the first full-length release (following a two-song demo) under The Column banner, he leaves behind the darkness of his earlier projects and draws from a much brighter musical palette. The aptly titled album demonstrates a new sense of clarity from the visionary artist in eight infectious tracks that could easily fit in Wire’s late 80s catalog. Sawyer’s migration to warmer sonic territory distinguishes The Column not only from his personal oeuvre, but also from many of his musical contemporaries. Rather than confining his sound to the cramped quarters of post-punk revivalism, he ventures beyond the genre’s cold, dark underbelly to search for the light.
From the first notes of Oracle, the change in Sawyer’s course is clear. Album opener ‘With the Dogs’ begins with a shimmering riff reminiscent of Martin Newell’s jangling ballads and blooms into a toe-tapping earworm destined for immediate replays. With each repetition of the line ‘it never reaches the end,’ the subliminal desire to infinitely loop the song grows stronger. Title track ‘Oracle’ follows with a seamless transition into minimal synthpop, demonstrating Sawyer’s remarkable ability to shift gears without breaking stride. Upbeat synth patterns contrast with downbeat lines like ‘there’s no clear way toward salvation,’ establishing a theme of duality that echoes throughout the album. While ‘it’s easy to forget the pain’ during such a blissful song, we’re quickly reminded that ‘the hole remains the same.’
The middle portion of the album builds upon the guitar-driven framework laid in the opening song while integrating the synth elements introduced in its successor. Sawyer blends the two styles masterfully over the course of four steadily paced tracks, at times evoking the sonic versatility of Aussie post-punks Total Control (Oracle was mastered by Mikey Young, one of Total Control’s founding members). In hit single ‘Reasons,’ he takes us for a ride through a life of crime with the charm of a smooth-talking serial killer, calmly reaffirming ‘you won’t find me this time’ after an eerie recollection of ‘bury[ing] the clothes,’ ‘gouging the eyes,’ and ‘leaving the scene.’ The criminally catchy track is simple in style but potent in delivery, with looped percussion and swirling guitar lines setting the stage for Sawyer’s chilling confession.
Oracle draws to a close with a pair of slow burners, concluding The Column’s maiden voyage on a somber note. Alternating synth patterns repeat for the duration of penultimate track ‘Turn Around,’ which follows Sawyer’s journey ‘through the fire’ in pursuit of ‘the taste of flesh again.’ His chants of ‘I want it now’ and ‘resurrect my body’ conjure imagery of an undead creature hungry for life at any cost, casting a haunting shadow over the album’s final minutes. The last song, ‘Covers,’ trudges toward the end with resignation, accepting the fate of ‘the person that I’ve become.’ By far the most austere track on the album, its stark structure pushes Sawyer’s placid vocals to the forefront as he summons Sisyphus with lines about moving backwards and walking in circles. If we are to imagine him happy, then all we need to do is flip the album over and start again to ensure ‘it never reaches the end.’