T Bone Burnett Reaches Takes On Avant-Garde Direction With ‘The Invisible Light: Spells’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The Invisible Light: Spells is the second installment in The Invisible Light trilogy, following 2019’s The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space. The album finds T Bone Burnett continuing his avant-garde style, furthering his sense of desolation, end of times despair, and unflinching pessimism. 

Burnett is again augmented by percussionist Jay Bellerose and multi-instrumentalist Keefus Ciancia forming a doomsday trio as Burnett focuses much of his disdain on modern technology.  The whole album feels as if it was sonically inspired by The Talking Heads’ Remain in Light track “The Overload” with humming uncertainty, bleak windswept soundscapes, and a sense of percolating anxiety. 

Opening with “Realities.com” Burnett delves into our modern world that will “read your dreams and code your screams” around the marching drums, bass sounds, and random digital racing up and down scales. Burnett is more famous as a producer and the restrained drum sound and layers of sonics are always kept at a cold distance, aesthetically fitting the overarching themes of a dystopian, siloed world.  

The Invisible Light: Spells stays in this vein throughout as those thin drums lead “I’m Starting A New Life Today” joined by everything-happening-at-once chanting, swelling backing vocals, and T Bone’s lyrics of reverse evolution. The lone guitar of the slow “Mother Cross (We Think We Think)” proves how small humans are and how futile our thoughts can be while “Mother Cross (We Think We Think) Reprise” continues that vibe while adding ambient whistling and distorted cello. 

Burnett’s doom and gloom can become dull and exhausting, the repetitive “Casting A Spell” goes nowhere with its undulating sound and spoken word lyrics but when Burnett injects just a touch of hope things improve.  

The more restrained echoing vocals of “A Better Day” injects the thought that there will be morning light to rescue us from the darkness (while still delivering creepy guitar lines and deep low end) while the vibrating “You May Leave But This Will Bring You Back” is based on the concept of “It takes more courage to love than to hate”.  Neither of these tracks are rays of sunshine by any stretch but they do rise above the other predominately one note dour offerings. 

Burnett is not a fan of technology, modern trends, or much of anything in general in the despondent middle offering of his trilogy. As a result, The Invisible Light: Spells oozes a murky uneasiness that floats throughout the album.  

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