Alone In The Woods is the electronic duo of Jon Dobyns and Lonn Bologna. Though, they aren’t just any electronic duo. Their time together as musical partners goes back many years, but Alone In The Woods is relatively new. They debuted on Burning Witches Records’ Communion compilation from RSD 2018. Then at the end of last year their self-titled debut dropped with the BWR crew. It was an intricately-produced, exquisitely curated group of tracks that hit on Depeche Mode vibes, eerie film scores, and almost ambient textures that was truly unlike anything I’d ever heard before. The Dobyns/Bologna production team is as good as anyone dropping million dollar tracks on the airwaves, yet with so much more in the creative and inspiring department.
So what do two guys like Jon Dobyns and Lonn Bologna write next to follow up such a stunning debut? They turn to the short stories of Lafcadio Hearn and create a score for his collection of Japanese legends and ghost stories titled Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Over 13 tracks, Alone In The Woods build an intricately-woven world; musical tales that reach beyond our reality and into the unknown. It’s a stunning musical retelling, with an elaborate sonic world constructed with global instrumentation that coalesces with modern electronic touches.
Kwaidan truly is a stunner. It’s also a hard one to describe. There is this distinct coming together of classic and modern sounds. Dobyns and Bologna combine classic Japanese instrumentation like the biwa(a lute-like instrument) with modern hip hop production. Otherworldly electronic sounds add to it to give us a truly haunted musical world that brings Hearn’s famous tales to life. And where as other re-scorings of Kwaidan(such as Timothy Fife’s excellent Hoichi the Earless) were based off of the 1965 film directed by Masaki Kobayashi, Alone In The Woods tackle Hearn’s text directly, leaving the visuals conjured a direct result of Dobyns’ and Bologna’s studio prowess.
Musically we are swept up from the beginning. These compositions have the feel of a classic film score; twists and turns from the beautifully ornamented to the subtle and sparse. Tracks like “Deep Seed” and “Impossible Wind” feel like a time machine to the ancient green pastures of Japan. Musically, AITW combines classic instrumentation with modern production, bringing these worlds together flawlessly. “Snowy Vows of Lust to Dust” has more ethereal tones; the electronic side is more prominent here giving way to Depeche Mode vibes. Dance-y rhythms coalesce perfectly with the ambient swishes of electrical noise. “Mouthless Tongue” has an almost new age mood to it. There’s a movement to how the song flows, but there’s also an underlying melancholy. “Butterflies In A Kingdom of Ants” is heartbreakingly beautiful. It holds in it an understated sadness, while not leaving you as a listener longing. There is a completion to this journey. A definitive period appears as the footsteps slowly grow quieter and quieter.
Kwaidan feels like it’s lifetimes away from Alone In The Woods’ debut, yet what connects them is of course Jon Dobyns and Lonn Bologna. I feel these two have taken their composition and production skills to a whole other level here. The thru line is of course their sonic fingerprint; their studio wizardry follows them to every project they touch, and Kwaidan is no different. Beautifully constructed, subtle, precise, and haunted throughout, Kwaidan is a shining musical moment for them. And for us.
8.2 out of 10
Kwaidan is available at noon on 8/22 over at Cadabra Records.