A dizzying and satisfying foray into swirling sinister dream pop, the eponymous debut album by Envy of None is a must-listen. Beautiful and threatening, the songs feel like old Ridley Scott movies. Dust floating through columns of light, sounds coming from all directions, and seductive danger around every corner. This album is a shadow, the red door that dares you to open it, the lady or the tiger.
Featuring Andy Curran (Coney Hatch), Alfio Annibalini, singer/songwriter Maiah Wynne, and former Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, Envy of None presents a striking combination of industrial, rock, and ambient textures. Wynne’s breathy voice winds through the music like smoke from the end of an unashed cigarette. When she sings the simple line, “You’re a liar,” her quiet delivery is more damning than any amount of grunge screaming.
Despite an almost ethereal gloss, the songs deal with hefty subjects. “Spy House,” with its jittery keyboards and sinewy guitar riff, deals with uncertainty within a relationship with a potentially shady partner. Wynne sings about gaslighting on “Dumb,” a shivering synth-driven piece that owes a spiritual debt to the music of John Carpenter.
If there’s a misfire on Envy of None, it’s “Kabul Blues,” which feels long and meandering with a running time of just over three minutes. Even with that small criticism, the song is necessary to the album’s overall flow. Consider it a breather from the emotional intensity of the entire piece, a quiet ferocity that picks up again as soon as “Kabul Blues” ends.
There is one potentially overwhelming problem with Envy of None, and it’s Alex Lifeson. Not Lifeson’s work on the album, but Lifeson’s past musical accomplishments and his reputation.
Any group featuring an established, if not revered, musician faces a difficult situation. Some people will listen to the music hoping for more of the same from that musician. They want it to sound like the “old stuff.” When that doesn’t happen, the backlash can be immediate and harsh. That can lead to a lot of new music being ignored by the fan community at large.
Rush fans eager to check out Lifeson’s new band should take heed. Envy of None is not the next iteration of that beloved and lamented rock group. This album is not the next Moving Pictures. Once this fact becomes known, there are some people who will never listen. If Lifeson isn’t lurching his way through ten-minute-long blasts of cosmos-rattling polyrhythmic prog, then why bother?
You should bother because this is a new phase in Lifeson’s development as a musician. Bother because this album is complex without being bombastic. Most of all, you should bother because Envy of None makes good music.
Filled with dark sensibilities, seductive grooves and gorgeous performances by vocalist Wynne, Envy of None is a textbook example of restraint. Songs threaten to hurl themselves off the cliff into pits of fury or despair, but reel themselves in at the last moment. That’s not a complaint. The album’s tendency to stay in its lane strengthens the overall product, making Envy of None one of the best releases of the year so far.
Envy of None is slated for release by KScope on April 8, 2022.