In “Alive in New Light,” IAMX showcases expert craftsmanship of layers that convey shifting feelings throughout the song.
Having previously given us atmospheric tracks like “I Come With Knives” and “Insomnia,” IAMX is not just a favourite feature on the popular TV show How to Get Away with Murder but also a one-man project: the initiative of Chris Corner, the founder of Sneaker Pimps and a noted multi-instrumentalist. It is under this side project of his that Chris Corner as IAMX released a new album earlier this year entitled Alive in New Light (out 2/2/18). The titular track is perhaps the most exemplary reference to IAMX’s dexterity with genre, sound and layers, as well as its specific preoccupation with experimentation. Second on the album that totals nine tracks, “Alive in New Light” has a contemplative slur of a start.
Listen: “Alive In New Light” – IAMX
A rising chord progression walks us into the song slowly, as the layers come on with a steady pace–first the chords and their reverb, then an addition of dragging choppy sounds that anticipate the vocals. In his inevitably distinct voice, IAMX sings “There’s a power much bigger than hate,” as the layers continue rushing into the song without an intrusion of any kind. The higher-pitched, near choral repetition of “I’m alive in new light” brings both the song title and the album title to the fore, while further adding to the ambient, patiently emotive nature of the track. It is after this that the beat kicks in, almost like a volley, a kind of back-and-forth that you could go so far as to call it a dialogue. The undertone of a lower note carries the implication of something darker, a constant hum beneath the actual track itself.
The chorus is reconfigured by the beats, allowing for a shift in meaning due to its difference from its predecessor. Layer upon layer is added and shifted, and it’s never quite clear or neatly divided between one instrument or the other. There is an ambiguity regarding where one sound begins and where one sound ends. Stuttering instrumentals detail experimentation. Corner’s high pitch further adds another layer of ambiguity–that of “conventional gender,” since there is no telling if this is a “male” voice or a “female” voice.
Beats volley into a synthesis of sonic elements, which for the most part resemble both the sound of error notifications and an ether choir at dedicated work, and the passage into the bridge is navigated by slips and slivers of sounds, high and low, draining and driven. The bridge is a suspension of most music, allowing for there to be a pause that is important not only because it enables the listener to clearly hear the most pertinent lyrics of the song or greatly appreciate IAMX’s vocalisation, but because it allows the listener to engage with how the lack of instrumentalism finds its way back into a song that is constituted heavily by layer upon layer. It is also during the bridge that IAMX sings:
And now I am the raindrop,
I am the tulip,
I have learned compassion
The relationship between a tulip and a raindrop is an extremely interesting to look at in the context of change and transformation. The raindrop provides the tulip with moisture, which the tulip needs to grow: the tulip essentially remains a recipient of this moisture, this means of growth. To say that one has been both is not necessarily to categorically state that he has been the tulip and raindrop literally but to instead convey a sense of empathy and understanding. Perhaps it alludes to his choice to learn compassion—this compassion which then allows him to see two differing ideas or positions (i.e. the tulip, the raindrop). Sung beautifully, without the rest of the song’s volume to drown it out, this part of the track really carries itself.
There’s a rising, spinning beat in the background of these lyrics that draws the song back into the fold of sound and layer, ensuring that the bridge is never too severed or disconnected from the careful construction that is this song. The last chorus, like all others, speaks for reclamation and rebirth (with its constant references to “ashes,” “new light,” and “rising”), celebrating an impassioned vigour and the possibility of some kind of transformation that has allowed for freedom, for liberty of being and doing, of feeling and thinking.
The centrality of compassion to this transformation or at least the possibility of it is perhaps the reason why it is that lyric that specifically finds its way in the bridge of the song, against a quiet murmur. Humming out into its end following the last renditions of the chorus where the high-pitched “alive” disappears into a dim collection of “ooooo’s,” “Alive in New Light” proves to be a provocative track off of IAMX’s newest album, showcasing expert craftsmanship of layers that convey shifting feelings throughout the song. True to IAMX’s want for exploration and experimentation, “Alive in New Light” engages the listener and develops a curiosity in them about what just the rest of the album could sound like.
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📸 © Gretchen Lanham