Patrick Walker’s 40 Watt Sun project is one of those enigmatic bands that only really raises its head when there’s new music to unveil for the world, but it’s always a wonderful time when that happens. After having reviewed his 2016 release Wider Than The Sky, I was already longing for more; now, almost 6 years down the line, I’m finally able to get into Perfect Light, his latest offering, albeit not alone this time around. With me I’ve got my dear friend and colleague Jake – sharing our thoughts on the album with each other, we found some common areas of enjoyment gleaned from it, as well as our own unique points of observation.
Dominik Böhmer: Hey bud, how’s it going? You ready to talk some 40 Watt Sun or what?
Jake Walters: It’s going well and I tell you what, I’m always ready to talk about 40 Watt Sun!
DB: That’s exactly what I wanted to hear, because honestly? Same for me. This is a band I couldn’t be any more excited to review again, and doing it with an absolute pal is the cherry on top.
To start us off, what was your initial reaction to Perfect Light like?
JW: I guess it was a bifurcated reaction. First, I was stoked that there was new stuff from Mr. Walker in general, since it’s been an age or two since the project released anything. The second part was just general hopefulness that the magic was still there. And maybe it’s too early to say, but I think I can say that there’s still magic to be found.
DB: I’m pretty much in the same boat. Having a new release with Walker involved in any capacity is always good news in this house, especially if it involves him singing – seriously, he’s got one of my favorite voices in music – so getting to anticipate that was a big boost for last year. And now that I’ve heard it, I’m extremely happy that it exceeded any and all expectations I had for it.
JW: I 100% agree with your assessment of his voice being among the greatest in music, agnostic of any genre. The timbre of his voice is emotive on its own, and then you throw his lyrics into the mix and it’s a full-on feel-fest. As to the Perfect Light, it’s a bit of an evolution, isn’t it? The richness is still there but deeper and more spacious.
DB: Yeah, that’s actually something I’ve been hoping to touch on. To me, it feels a lot lighter, less distorted, and somewhat more… approachable(?) than the previous two 40 Watt Sun releases. It’s definitely gotten a lot folkier, thanks to the piano, background vocals, and clean acoustic guitars. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but this new direction Walker took kinda reminds me of Jason Molina and his Songs:Ohia project, a song of which Walker has actually covered before in a live setting.
JW: Oh interesting, I hadn’t heard of this or Walker’s cover, but consider it added to my list of things to peruse. As for the new direction, I love the folkier vibes, and I think it fits pretty much all of what this project has to say. As far as other touchstones, there are also moments here that remind me of Glen Hansard without going fully down the singer-songwriter rabbit hole stylistically. And as I write this, I think that’s what really draws me in. It’s top-notch songwriting blended with acoustic doom without leaning too far in either direction and trying to get cute doing so.
DB: My knowledge of Glen Hansard/ singer-songwriters in general is woefully scanty, so I’ll have to trust you on that, haha. But I do agree on the songwriting front; Perfect Light really never loses focus or your attention, even with its hour-plus runtime.
Another thing that I personally find really engaging about this record is that, while the overall musical direction might’ve changed a bit, most of the songs are still these long, drawn-out numbers full of repeated motifs and atmospheric tension. I feel like that’s become a trademark for Walker, and I for one am glad he kept it that way amidst all the new things he tried here.
JW: Yes! Not that long ago I took a stab at writing a reflection on the classic Warning album Watching From A Distance, and the DNA is still the same even though the vessel of delivery has changed a bit. I’d also like to talk about the lyrics a bit, because I think when an approach like this surfaces, where the music recedes, it gives the spotlight to the emotional message of the song. The track, “Behind My Eyes” is a bit of a standout for me, because of the cathartic feelings that come with the harmonies and lines such as:
‘Where peace and darkness divide
I am beside you
in the tatters of my weakness.
Meet the measure of my mind;
this night won’t define us – it reveals us
Let’s believe ourselves
and time may prove to us.‘
40 Watt Sun often gets labeled as just sad music, I’d argue that it’s just real music.
DB: Oh, I’m 100% with you on that. The lyrics, while yes, they can be quite sad at times, are so incredibly heartfelt that you can really make out the person behind them at any given moment. There are just so many nuggets of lived experience, loving dedication, loss, and plain-old wisdom to be found here if you’re willing to listen. My favorite would be the final lines to “Closure”, actually, where Walker states that ‘life can never be held but only lived‘, a statement that I find to be very true and impactful.
JW: Wisdom indeed. Overall I’d say the album as a whole is held together by a certain tension. The tension of needing to be heard, expressed, and seen. And I think that’s why the aforementioned runtime of over an hour is not an obstacle. While I don’t pine for every moment of the album, I do feel that it was all essential. That being said, I think the high point for me is “The Spaces In Between”. That could be due to it feeling like an Owen or American Football song being sung by Patrick Walker, but overall I think it’s the melodies and phrasing, and those sweet sweet harmonies. Do you have any favorite moments?
DB: Honestly? Not in terms of a full song. To me, I kinda like how you can just let the album flow in and out fo your life as one big entity, but also interact with it more closely if you so desire, you know what I mean? The lengthy, repetitive song structures and beautiful melodies perfectly lend themselves to that kind of consumption, even though I would never in a million years call this an album without highlights.
Now that I think of it, one moment I do enjoy every single time is when Walker sings the line ‘Tonight, I will not try to harden truth with reasons‘ in “The Spaces In Between”. The way he delivers it in such a gentle, almost forgiving kind of tone, I like to imagine him with a soft smile in front of the microphone as he recorded that particular part. It’s a nice thought.
JW: That is a nice thought. I like it. I concur that this is an album where one song doesn’t necessarily rise above the others with any measurable significance. It’s like one big story that’s being related through a series of gorgeous songs. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least say that the production on Perfect Light, is also, perfect. It highlights the right things and allows the background instrumentation is featured as it should be with nice little details surfacing discreetly at the right moments.
DB: Absolutely. While I wouldn’t want to take anything away from his previous work, I feel like the new elements Walker introduced on Perfect Light wouldn’t have worked with the same aesthetic and production value as what was present on those earlier efforts, so it’s definitely commendable that the production too has changed in favor of a brighter, more inviting experience.
A huge shoutout to every musician involved in making these beautiful sceneries come alive as well; they did an amazing job enriching Walker’s vision with their respective talents. I feel like this more collaborative approach has brought out a few new sides to him that I’d love to see explored more thoroughly in the future.
JW: Great points, all around. There’s no shortage of things to praise on Perfect Light, is there? It’s at this point that I’d usually levy a criticism or two at an album during a review but I don’t have much to say on that front. The only thing that I’d say to future listeners is to keep an open mind to the slight change in the trajectory of the band and you’ll walk away with a memorable experience.
DB: That’s a good way to summarize it, I suppose. If you’re open for this kind of slow-burn music, there’s hardly anything in terms of criticism you could levy agains this band or album – it does its thing very well, keeping to an organic aesthetic throughout without feeling forced or trite, which I would say is an achievement in and of itself.
Anything else you would like to talk about in regards to Perfect Light?
JW: I think I’ve fully expressed my views on the album! I can certainly see it becoming a favorite of 2022 and beyond. What a lovely album, and I’ve had a lovely time chatting with you about it!
DB: Again, 100% agreed. While it’s pretty hard to tell this early on, I feel like this will be an album I’ll cherish for a good, long while.