White Moth Black Butterfly (WMBB) classify themselves as a “contemporary pop project with progressive and experimental music at its heart”. A very appropriate categorization of the project that began with Dan Tompkins (Tesseract) collaborating with New Delhi producer / songwriter Keshav Dhar (Skyharbor) on the debut “One Thousand Wings” which also featured UK singer and lyricist, Jordan Turner on additional vocals.
The project really took flight with their next release, “Atone,” bringing Jordan into the band as a full member along with US based producer and string arranger Randy Slaugh who has previously worked with the likes of Devin Townsend, Architects and Periphery and drummer Mac Christensen. These added contributions helped produce an incredible progressive / dreamy / modern pop record with lush strings and vocals.
“Atone” was one of those albums you drop the needle to the record, sit back and just let the stress evaporate from your body…no, your soul. Their new release, “The Cost of Dreaming” is not that album. Though it certainly is of the same lineage as “Atone,” in the true nature of progressive / experimental music, it, well, spreads its wings and flies in a somewhat different direction.
“The Cost of Dreaming” is not conceptual in nature but it almost feels like a continuation of “Atone,” as if the listener falls asleep and begins to dream. The dream begins with the album opener, “Ether,” which could have easily been on “Atone” or even “One Thousand Wings.” Instrumentally sparse with just soaring strings and Dan‘s impassioned vocals. One would think this is just a continuation of where “Atone” left off.
From here, the sleeper enters the dream world and finds they are in new territory with “Prayer for Rain.” Dark synths begin to pulse and establish a mesmerizing dance groove. The track could have easily landed on a Zeta album (one of Dan‘s other projects that is synth driven). Gone are the lush, sweeping string arrangements. They are replaced by driving bass synth beats awashed in a swirl of eighties techno color.
Next up is the initial single, “The Dreamer.” A perfectly crafted pop song and the first to feature Jordan on vocals. Her dreamlike voice floats over the synth riff that fades in and out of focus. Dan‘s voice cuts through and answers in the chorus. Very melodic and catchy but so much depth underneath. Welcome to WMBB 2.0. Certainly an album highlight and a great choice as a first single. In a just world, this song would be a chart-topping pop success.
The use of electronics and the progressive pop feel stays dominant in “Heavy Heart and Portals.” The use of some string and wind instruments add some additional depth to the pop drenched soundscapes on each. A much more modern feel than Atone. Also, for the first time, the vocal mixes were handled by an outside producer, Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Skyharbor). Sonically, this album just feels so much larger than the prior releases. Definitely worth listening to with headphones as there is so much going on.
At this point, the listener may be thinking that this is just like “Atone” but with an electronic feel to it. This notion is shattered with the next track, “Use You.” Here the dream shifts more to a nightmare and tackles the dark, ugly topic of domestic abuse. Dan sings from the perspective of the abuser over a groove that even Charli XCX would envy. The carpet is ripped from under the listener with the dark music and even darker lyrics. “It’s not me. I promise you, I want you, I need you, I love you (he’s got you), I will always be yours,” the abuser attempts to rationalize and justify. The sounds of arguing and crying play over the brooding, ever present synths until fade out. An unsettling, even uncomfortable track to listen to at times.
The nightmare ends and the listener is dropped straight into the driving synth beat of “Darker Days.” Despite the name, it is certainly brighter skies and really just a fun track that should be a future single. The song could easily be a dance hit, especially as the sax solo by Kenny Fong makes its grand entrance. This song will have you nodding your head and looking for the dance floor.
The album slows down with soothing synths and spoken, whispered vocals on “Sands of Despair.” The song serves as a sort of interlude where in the dream state, the sleeper’s mind wanders. Some impassioned vocals from Dan here and some beautiful string work from Randy Slaugh that dominated “Atone” but seems to just make small, but notable appearances on “The Cost of Dreaming.”
After hearing the first two singles from the album, most listeners would have expected more songs such as “Under the Stars.” A beautiful, piano driven track featuring Jordan‘s dreamy voice. Her voice complements the music so well here and on the next tracks, second single, “Soma and Liberate.” These tracks hit the sweet spot for WMBB. Lush soundscapes architected by Dhar with soaring vocal interplay from Jordan and Dan.
Again, as the listener begins to settle into a groove with the dreamlike synth driven music, another monkey wrench is thrown into the mix. “The Sage” (from Atone) is reincarnated into an industrial, Nine Inch Nails tinged demonic being. The track even features some screamed vocals by Dan ala Tesseract. This is definitely not your father’s White Moth Black Butterfly, this is the butterfly spreading its black wings, taking flight and as the lyrics say, devouring everything in sight.
The dream shifts gears again returning to more familiar progressive pop territory with “Bloom.” Some nice, polyrhythmic drumming by Mac contribute to an otherwise excellent pop song delivered exclusively by Dan. Some really standout keyboard work provided by Eric Guenther of The Contortionist here. A buttery, Blade Runner-esque tone to his sound that really takes the song to another level.
“Bloom” leads right into the closing track “Spirits.” Jordan‘s voice washes over the sleepy synths as the dream begins to give way to morning after a restless night sleep. The music climbs frantically toward the end with Dan screaming: “We were born to fly” before fading out. Cinematic in nature. Grand in its delivery. The climactic finale to a truly special album experience.
For anyone that thought White Moth Black Butterfly was just a string based, adult contemporary project, think again. In the true sense of progressive and experimental music, the band does not deliver “Atone” 2. Instead, they evolve their sound into something striking and new. A different, more electronic minded muse is followed here but it contains all the same ingredients that make WMBB so unique. I can’t wait to see where this group of highly creative people take their vision next.
Released by: Kscope
Released on: May 28th, 2021
Genre: Contemporary Pop
- Daniel Tompkins / Vocals
- Jordan Turner / Vocals
- Mac Christensen / Drums
“The Cost of Dreaming” Track-listing:
- Prayer For Rain
- The Dreamer
- Heavy Heart
- Use You
- Darker Days (feat. Kenny Fong)
- Sands Of Despair
- Under The Stars
- Bloom (feat. Eric Guenther)
White Moth Black Butterfly return with a synth drenched makeover to their unique sound that shakes things up and ultimately delivers their most powerful release to date. Fans of Tesseract, Massive Attack, Thomas Newman, and Nine Inch Nails should take note