There are few things more satisfying than to see and hear an artist make so dramatic an improvement as Daniel McCullough has with Silver Walks. The contrast between his 2019 Songs of Love and Hate debut and his latest full-length effort is not quite night-and-day; rather, the fog of McCullough’s shortcomings on that first album has been lifted to reveal a more refined, mature, and confident sense of songwriting, production, and above all performance.
Right from the onset of the opening “Lantern,” which at first sounds like another iteration of the saccharine electro/EBM he’d previously displayed with a rather bouncy beat and percolating synths, but then explodes with a darker flair as he lets loose with the song’s dark groove. Coupled with the stabs of guitar from James Francis, the song takes on a more machine rock vibe that sets the tone for the rest of the album. On songs like “Eyes of Caligula” or the closing “Mirrortowne,” with their metallic percussive clangs, throbbing bass, crisp synths, and even some splashes of atonal piano on the latter track further showcase the enhancements to Silver Walks’ sound, but even more so is McCullough’s vocal work as he expresses greater control, power, and melody all at once. Hints of the classic sounds of Nitzer Ebb, Chemlab, Christ Analogue, or even a bit of Armageddon Dildos can be detected in Silver Walks, but like any good artist, these influences are unified into something wholly its own. Among them, Sister Soleil’s slightly slithery and always alluring vocal gives “Silence the Dark,” along with the sharply organic drum sounds, a particularly ‘90s alt. rock edge, the chorus standing out as one of the album’s highlights. There’s an almost funky quality to the strident bass and strutting beat of “Tear Me Down” as the harmonization of Coral Scere and Tim Heireith reaches its apex in the chorus, while the ever spirited Marc Heal on “In Consequence,” belting with his renowned sense of urgency and force amid trickling pianos and irresistible beats, helps to elevate what could’ve been a simply good synthpop track into something sublime. But the crown jewel of Various Positions in this writer’s opinion would have to be “Rose in a Blood Red Field,” on which sirens and wisps of static and distortion give rise to layers of ambient guitar by John Jacobus, Ryan Mast’s violins, and a lush vocals of Eva X, making for a rather marvelous and evocative instrumental that proves the strength of Silver Walks’ musical mettle.
Even with the assistance of such notable guest performers, including Stoneburner’s Steven Archer, Chemlab’s Dan Evans, and a final mix by the eminent John Fryer, McCullough gathers these seemingly disparate elements to make Various Positions a cohesive experience from start-to-finish. It’s almost alchemical how Daniel McCullough has made good on the potential he exhibited on his first album, taking Silver Walks to the proverbial next level. Bravo!