So the sixth Hawke album is an 18 track record that’s being released as a book. Those words have never been arranged in quite that same order and yet all of it is true.
Gavin Hardkiss has never been a normie, to say the least. The new music industry was supposed to have created a wide space for non-normies and music in unconventional shapes and sizes — for electronic albums that aren’t altogether electronic and albums that are actually books. Instead, today we have a music scene where everything feels more commodified than ever, more uniform, more buy-now-on-colored-vinyl-and-get-a-download-code.
Records that look off, that look strange, that are released unconventionally or in total ignorance or contempt for the rest of the industry play with a handicap here. They’re fun, they’re challenging and more importantly they may not be great but they’re not boring, in the way that the whole Beatport Tech House Top 100 and everything in it is the definition of boring.
And meanwhile, Gavin Hardkiss is over here, still contemplating music in unconventional shapes and sizes. While other artists are reaching backward, Hardkiss is trying to make something unlike anything else that came before it. It’s hard to be wholly successful in that, but with The Dark Art of Light Work, he comes very close and closer than most.
The Dark Art of Light Work is an album that’s a book, but it’s also the best Hawke album, I think, since Love Won Another. And I think it’s better: after almost 30 years of this, Gavin Hardkiss has found his true voice, and works it like a virtuoso.
Ezra Pound said the best poetry had to be knocked out of a man. (He wrote his best poetry in a prison camp awaiting extradition for treason.) The forward to The Dark Art of Light Work alludes to the circumstance in which this project was born — a crisis that included or was sparked by the death of his father.
“When I was identifying his body before the funeral,” he writes, “I looked down at him and recognized a boy. His skin was as smooth as an infant, and he looked peaceful like an angel. I realized that we are all children here on Earth. We are all babes and few know what to do with this blessing of life. We forget, it gets confusing and we slip into versions of the past repeating until we die.”
Gavin Hardkiss describes a spiritual journey — much more a struggle than an “awakening” — and following a path of several notable musicians before him which may or may not have involved meeting the fellow who lives down at the crossroads. A bit of this I knew from a conversation we had earlier this year, in which I learned about a document Gavin had written related to this journey through Crowley and other esoteric writers.
“So you founded a new religion?” I asked. Which was crass but crass is what I am. My sole experience with this is a colleague I used to work with at a financial publisher that took heroic doses of Robitussin until he managed to pray himself into the astral plane. He became a millionaire trading cryptocurrency before he lost everything including his ability to communicate with “the machine elves” of Brendan Eichs, creator of the Brave browser. I just don’t know how to handle these things.
Anyway, while contemplating and writing in private, Gavin seemed to be working out possible solutions in public. His Traded Everything For Love #5 mix was a glimpse into the psychic workshop; “Grapeseed Meditation,” a single featuring a beautiful Öona Dahl remix, was another. How metaphysical problems are solved with creative work, I do not know. He sums it up as getting to the bottom of the “unsettled feeling” of the world, to “poison the ugliness and corruption with a contagion of another kind[:] Something alert, beautiful, peaceful, contemplative and hopeful. I wanted to make a utopia.
“I wrote a lot of music and words in 2019 because I knew what 2020 would bring. The best parts came together in a form that I call The Dark Art of Light Work.”
There are moments on The Dark Art of Light Work that are pure Hardkiss — passages and phrases that could come from no one else. “She’s Life” is bursting with examples of this. And yet it’s the fulcrum, one of several load-bearing points upon which the album turns, passing through a violent struggle one moment into an almost entrancing satori of strings. Who else could — or would dare — to make something like this? Even in breaking new ground, The Dark Art of Light Work fits perfectly in the canon of Gavin Hardkiss’ adventurous, genre-bending albums.
A lot of these tracks have a kind of subjective shapelessness. “Save Us” sounded like a dirge the first time I heard it. Later, in a lighter mood, it felt like I was listening to a digital sutra. It was calming and peaceful. This happened over and over again: the inflection of a certain chant or tone or abrupt shift in tempo took on a pleasant or ominous or mysterious quality based upon how I was feeling at the time — what I brought to it. You start to question yourself: “My Name Is Alive” is an unparalleled work of beauty. Or am I just seeing it that way? The albums and songs and art that we love — that we really will bring with us to the grave and, depending on your theology, beyond it — are the ones that are constantly revealing themselves, presenting new details and provoking a new understanding. They don’t so much give our lives a soundtrack as much as a heartbeat. You get high, make love, drop acid or mourn a friend to the same song and each one of those experiences seems to pull more meaning out of it. And those records — those are the ones that you keep. It’s like that for me, anyway.
The Dark Art of Light Work is a challenging album, in the way that albums are rarely challenging anymore. There’s a voice here that is saying it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to not know what’s going to happen. It’s okay if you don’t know what to make of this. Gavin Hardkiss is an expert because he doesn’t know either.
Hawke: The Dark Art of Light Work / Hardkiss Music (February 2020)
1. Hawke: The Dark Art of Light Work | Continuous Mix | Disc One (55:54)
2. Hawke: The Dark Art of Light Work | Continuous Mix | Disc Two (54:04)
3. Hawke: We Are One (09:20)
4. Hawke: Melody In My Heart (07:28)
5. Hawke: She’s Life (06:33)
6. Hawke: Save Us (07:48)
7. Hawke: My Name Is Alive (06:19)
8. Hawke: Bells of San Anselmo (08:03)
9. Hawke: Blue Mother (07:09)
10. Hawke: PingPong I Love U (07:50)
11. Hawke: Cisum Neila (05:12)
12. Hawke: Dervish (06:00)
13. Hawke: Physical Dylan (05:40)
14. Hawke: Stars Will Shine 4 U (06:16)
15. Hawke: Walking Home (07:24)
16. Hawke: Harpi (05:46)
17. Hawke: Crows (05:54)
18. Hawke: White Space (03:52)
19. Hawke: U Frequency (08:08)
20. Hawke: Blade (06:43)