According to T-Bone Burnett, The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space is the first part of a trilogy that will sum up everything he has to say as a recording artist. Burnett has won 13 Grammy Awards as a producer, music supervisor for TV and film, and songwriter. As a recording artist, his catalog defines disruption: He consciously blurs genre lines to present music as a holistic cornerstone in art's ability to liberate.
The Invisible Light is Burnett's first album in 11 years. It's a futurist, avant-industrial companion to a 5,000-line poem he's been writing for years now. Its companion volumes will be released at six-month intervals. Burnett's themes illuminate his notion that for 100 years, electronic programming (and in turn, technology) has caused humans to lose capacity for distinguishing truth from fiction, and has gone a long way to transforming us into hybrid beings. (Google claims the transition will be complete within 20 years.) He is joined by drummer Jay Bellerose and sound sculptor, composer, and keyboardist Keefus Ciancia. There are few acoustic instruments here. The songs follow even fewer conventional traits: Burnett talks more than he sings and he pays attention to interplay, texture, and dynamic, not songwriting norms. In his liner essay he calls this "electronic music" and "trance music," but it doesn't resemble EDM. He juxtaposes ecumenical spiritual themes and propaganda, philosophy and emotion, and the pursuit of truth and the current cultural celebration of mendacity from the mouths of the powerful. "A Man Without a Country (All Data Are Compromised)" introduces this subterranean manifesto with "I've always been a man without a country/I've always been a citizen of heaven," amid swirling, drifting noise before entering into a skeletal ambient ballad and then resuming the fractured sonics until two minutes of wind-blown ambience offer respite. It gives way to the percussive roar of "To Beat the Devil" who will "…play upon your darkest fears/I’ll be a confidante for you/Then I’ll take what I want from you…" "Anti-Cyclone" begins as a sung tango before morphing into a tarantella with spaghetti western overtones mashing together a lovelorn ballad with insidious Machiavellian political psychology: "If you tell people the things they already believe/They will believe you/It doesn’t matter what you say…." "In the Secret in their Eyes," he addresses spiritual confusion through Philip K. Dick's dystopian vision articulated by crushing tom-tom loops, layered, ghostly vocals, and eerie sonic effects: "Our brains are washed/But they're not clean/We dream other people's dreams." "Being There" references Jerzy Kozinsky's classic novel alongside the Visitation in the New Testament while he raps and croons jagged yet prismatic reassurance: "Let's make a future/Where we all want to live/Let's create a past/We don't have to forgive." The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space is not comfortable to listen to but is nonetheless compelling, and arguably necessary. It's outrageously transgressive -- even for Burnett -- creative, labyrinthine, and assertive. It observes contradictions and asks questions we can only answer for ourselves. Amen.