Like his friends and collaborators in GothBoiClique, the emo-rap iconoclastics who counted Lil Peep as a member, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal has never been afraid of the dark. Born Adam McIlvey, the singer-songwriter infuses his songs with a narcissistic and brooding atmosphere, elements no doubt informed by his former membership in open-hearted emo band Tigers Jaw. But Wicca Phase’s music has always been a little more opaque and otherworldly than its peers. Emotions are raw, but his songs are not didactic. he wants you to get close, get lost in the mystery.
On Full Moon Mystery GardenWicca Phase Springs Eternal deepens the mystical air he’s cultivated over the decade or so he’s been releasing songs under that moniker. The images that recur throughout the record—lonely roads, quiet nights, portals to other realms—are emotional but never too concrete. they are ordinary enough to comfort, but with so many horrors lurking in the shadows that they remain unsettling. It’s a Lynchian journey down a lost highway, punctuated by shuddering snare beats, dusty drum breaks and a heady blur of strumming guitar lines. On the poppy “I’m in love with myself tonight,” he sums up the record’s appeal in a single couplet:
McIlvey’s foggy abstraction is rarely as moving as on “On the Road to the Dark Region,” where he prepares to descend into an underwater portal, letting love wash over him. Throughout, her writing feels labored and self-consciously poetic, but in a way that matches the heavy intonation of her voice. He always preferred a harsh low note surrounded by creeping harmonies, and he does so here, in a way that evokes medieval sacred music; profane rhymes whose predictive implications remain unclear.
This approach, shrouding almost every song in darkness, creates some breakthrough moments of emotional clarity when McIlvey allows himself to open up. The simple, direct opener “I Was on a Back Road by Self” is a quiet meditation on loneliness that recalls the unguarded vulnerability of Phil Elverum’s first records as Mount Eerie. It is compelling and serious to the extent Full Moon Mystery Garden it’s not, which makes it feel like McIlvey trusts you, a tiny kernel of truth amid the swirling anxiety of the record as a whole.
This satisfying use of contrast is repeated throughout the instrumentals on the record. McIlwee and producer Garden Avenue alternate between previous Wicca Phase releases, drum-heavy refractions and euphoric pop. In part, it can certainly accommodate a wide range of guests, running from equally depraved GothBoiClique regulars like Fish Narc to kaleidoscopic pop mutators like 8485 and blackwinterwells, but the emotional impact runs deep. Tension and release exist in a delicate balance; for every moment of ecstatic abandon, like the dreamy “Hickory Grove,” there’s something a little more curdled and unsettling, like the hazy memories of the witches’ house in “I Am the Edge.” As a result, the record feels catchy in places, short and cold in others. It’s a compelling document of uncertainty from an artist who isn’t afraid to offer a tour of the tangled headspace he inhabits.