self-released / 2015
Greensboro, North Carolina's The Collection stared death in the face last year on their kaleidoscopic epic Ars Moriendi, which emerged from the aftermath of a close friend's suicide. So it's surprising that frontman David Wimbish's mortality-free solo EP is comparatively much more dour. It's a sober, lonely record characterized by an intense, sometimes oblique lyricism that dwells on division in a number of different forms.
That lonely feel is consonant with how the EP was recorded. While the dozen members of The Collection literally spill from stages with their motley array of instruments, Wimbish's EP truly is "solo": every sound from cello to guitar to backing vocals is him. There's a superficial uniformity to these acoustic laments, but a close listen reveals songwriting and arrangements designed with the precision of a watchmaker. Indeed, while Wimbish is by all accounts a generous and democratic bandleader, he seems to relish the absolute control he exercises here. That sense of control extends to his singing, as well. While his ragged yelp was one of the highlights of Ars Moriendi, On Separation is strictly an inside-voice affair, and Wimbish carefully bends his boyish timbre into something special on each track.
Each of On Separation's five songs explores a unique sort of disconnection, from divorce, to withered friendships, to spiritual alienation. Ruminating on the pain of a friend's divorce on "Circles and Lines", he oscillates between providing comfort for the afflicted, feeling guilt for the companionship of his own wife, and expressing scorn for the speed with which promises are discarded. "Don't cut through the knots when they untie easily," he chides over seesawing strings in the song's climactic passage. Then on "Cain and Abel", he swings the critical eye upon his own marital strife, comparing himself and his wife to the fateful siblings. "I fight like Cain, you fall like Abel/So why am I who's left unstable?" It's a picture of how, in the vice-like mutuality of marriage, "victory" is always a defeat, always hollow.
That hollow quality extends to Wimbish's spiritual state, too. Again and again, he finds yesterday's insights to be inadequate today - "The truth that I found was true in the time that I needed it" - and all that's left is empty ritual. On "A Ghost and A Scale", the sacred and mysterious have become tools of pure utility: at church the blood drips from a crucifix "like coffee" and the congregation numbly "speed-dial"s a confessional chorus. Yet on "Lost and Found", he holds in his mind the times when the scales have slipped from his eyes and "everyone looks just as lost and found and loved and known as I'd ever hope to be". He clings to recollections in faith that the same grace will alight again someday, but it's cold comfort: "I guess until that time I will just pretend."
Finally, the "separation" on On Separation's closing track, "Back and Forth", is self-imposed - it's the slow, purposeful excommunication of an old friend. Wimbish spouts awkward, empty chatter "til we feel we can leave", then watches the retreating taillights, wondering "how far our hearts are now away". Yet in the album's parting sentiment, he dreams of himself and the friend as galaxies: "we're slowly colliding til we can dance endlessly." In an ever-expanding universe where entropy is the rule, Wimbish counter-intuitively holds out hope for a final reunification - if not for a physical one, then spiritual.