Scott Kelly received props for his genre-jumping solo debut, Spirit Bound Flesh, which shelved the drone and growl of Kelly’s band, Neurosis, for more mellow songs combining influences from outlaw country to acoustic grunge. Kelly heads down a similar path on The Wake, offering seven spare compositions laced with dark imagery. Though he does a credible job of creating a mood of melancholy, the songs lack a sense of continuity, and that eventually robs the album of its impact. Without a theme, The Wake feels less like an album than a collection of isolated ideas that never reach their full potential.
On The Wake, Kelly is exploring much of the same territory as Neurosis bandmate Steve Von Till, whose The Grave Is a Grim Horse (released a year earlier than Spirit Brown Flesh, in 2000) also eschewed electric instruments in favor of a spare acoustic sound. Though it’s interesting that both Kelly and Von Till took such similar paths when stepping away from Neurosis, Kelly’s songs lack any unifying thread. While Von Till offered an extended exploration on the fragility of life that mitigated the sparseness of his album, Kelly struggles to find a similar idea. His compositions, similarly constructed, are often too simple to stand alone, and are therefore less compelling.
The Wake does have some high points. “Saturn’s Eye” is a standout, as Kelly evokes Lovecraftian imagery and a buzzing electric guitar to create a track that wouldn’t sound out of place in a heavy-metal cartoon segment. Too often, though, The Wake consists of a few lines delivered by Kelly in a restrained growl accompanied by a minimal acoustic guitar line.
Kelly has clearly made these choices for effect, but some more exposition or even a little more noise would be appreciated.