Wolfgang Webb

Insomnia is a portal into the netherworld.

Restless nights are a hellstorm of synaptic wildfires, an onslaught of flickering, free-associative psychic combats with every single mistake, every single heartache, every single regret, every single loss and every single emotional scar from your past, present and imagined future. And then, instead of the comfort and succour of the pillow the next night ••• repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Wolfgang Webb's impossibly long-overdue − and impossibly sad and sculpted and haunting − debut album as a solo artist, The Insomniacs' Lullaby, was borne of this state and, indeed, sounds not unlike what it feels like to be perpetually immersed in this state. Probably because it was made in the throes of this state, when every night is a long, dark night of the soul.

"Everything was done in my bedroom between two and six in the morning. I was in a manicdepressive, insomniac state where I wasn't sleeping and everything was very fluid. That's just the way it was," says Webb. " It was really cathartic. 'Before You Sleep (The Pills),' the first single, was written really quickly and I was just shocked at how transparent and how honest it was. I was taken aback at how very stream-of-consciousness it was, the way the lyrics came out at the same time I was playing the piano. And then the instrumentation came together really quickly, too. So I had this song and I just pulled from that and the other nine songs came out really quickly. Like, really quickly."

"Before You Sleep (The Pills)" − an elegant, string-streaked miserablist missive anchored by an indelible "Hold me, hold me, my friend / The pills stopped working again" chorus quite at odds with the instrumentation's overall freefall into into-the-void ambience − would open the floodgates on a torrent of new material that would eventually birth The Insomniacs' Lullaby but also now has Webb plotting to release a three-album body of work over the next three years.

Let's not put the cart ahead of the hearse (yeah, that was a Goth joke) just yet, though. For the moment, just be pleased that Webb is finally stamping some music with his own name and putting it out there again. It's been awhile. A formidable talent, the Toronto singer, songwriter and composer disappeared into the anonymity of sound design and for-hire film and television scoring. But one can only bottle up the creative urge for so long, and The Insomniacs' Lullaby is the result. It's a spill, a deeply personal work that came out in a rush not necessarily because Webb wanted it to but because it had to and, by his own admission, "there's not a lot of joy on the record." The lyric sheet is fraught with references to heartbreak, depression, suicide and the ghosts of sexual abuse, but at the same time The Insomniacs' Lullaby is not a wallow. It stares into the darkness with grace and poise and finds the transformative beauty in that darkness. Because that's how you stop the darkness from getting the better of you.

"Don't get me wrong: I love my dark, melancholy murder ballads," laughs Webb. "When I used to score, I kept getting comedy and I'd be, like, 'I don't want comedy. I want the killer-on-a-rampage, hostage-taking, AK-47-wielding sniper shit!' Musically, I don't think I'll ever not be melancholy because it's how I thrive. I'll never be a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. I'm just not that guy. I can appreciate sadness.

"This has been a lot of therapy, though. A lot of it, I didn't understand − especially lyrically − what I was conceiving at the time, but in hindsight looking back at the songs in their finished state, it's like 'Oh, fuck, it's not about her or him. It's just a projection of my own shit.' That was really revealing for me. So I just wanted to have the rest of the record be as open. Lyrically, this album is just an open book. There's nothing cryptic in it, really. Read into it however you will, but it's just an honest body of work. Probably the most honest thing I've ever done, and I think a lot of it was about not giving a fuck about pleasing a record label."

The Insomniacs' Lullaby − recorded in fits and starts in sessions spanning France, Los Angeles, Nashville and Toronto with contributions from seasoned players who've worked with the likes of Johnny Cash, the Pretenders and Lucinda Williams −is a thoroughly pleasing listen, though, one that'll make you wonder why it took Webb this long to get around to it. It works as an enchanting headphone record or an all-engulfing, sit-in-front-of-the-speakers-and-let-it-wash-over-you particle-bath kinda thing, with arresting abstract portraits by Korean artist Zin Lim on the cover and Australia's Steve Salo on the inner sleeve to complement the first pressing's electric-blue vinyl if you're into 360-degree artistic appreciation. And you should be for this thing because it's been conceived in 360 degrees.

It's also a proper grower that, much like "Before You Sleep (The Pills)" itself, rewards you with new depths, new layers and − yes − genuine pop hooks (shhhh) the more time you spend with it. "Before You Sleep (The Pills)" and "Hold Back My Fear" conjure Tom Waits or Lou Reed in a blacklit waltz with Dead Can Dance. The tangled industrial techno-gnarl of "So I Go" sounds like Trent Reznor suddenly besotted with the possibilities of string arrangements. "Lonely Heart" and "Down by the River" imagine what might be had Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen or Mark Lanegan at their most baroque and distraught ever called upon Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized to collaborate. The brooding couplet of "Oh Soul" and "Flood" could be the Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine gone full Goth trying to claw their way out of a K-hole. And yet Webb's pronounced fetish for "cellos, cellos, cellos, trumpet, trumpet, trumpet" arranged in unimaginably creative directions and talent for precise sound design keep the whole thing firmly orbiting in its own strange universe. You'll want to live in that universe for some time to come.

"I really don't think it's a first-listen kinda record," affirms Webb with a laugh. "Which I really love. I don't want it to be disposable or be, like,orgasmic every song and then you're done with it. Who needs a blow job when you can have a long-term affair?"

Ben Rayner Fall 2023