After making three albums of forward-thinking black metal with Altar of Plagues, James Kelly went in a very different direction with WIFE. He debuted the project's subtle, shadowy electronic music with the Stoic EP, a beautifully murky set of songs that, despite its release by Throwing Snow's Left Blank imprint, suggested a relationship with Tri Angle Records was inevitable. Interestingly, his first full-length for that label, What's Between, sounds less typically Tri Angle than Stoic did. Instead, Kelly opts for crisp layers and textures that bring his music into sharp focus on songs such as "Like Chrome," which juxtaposes airy vocals and electronics with heavy, almost suffocating beats. The way this song and the rest of the album swings between pretty and ominous reflects Kelly's choice of collaborators: the Haxan Cloak, whose claustrophobic 2013 album Excavation was one of the year's most impressive and terrifying efforts, and ambient producer Roly Porter (best known for his work as Vex'd) helped Kelly shape these songs into studies in shadow and light. However, What's Between is clearly Kelly's baby, and he gives WIFE's sound plenty of range. With their dense textures and alternately fragmented and pummeling beats, "Tongue" and the similarly brooding "Salvage" and "A Nature" share the closest kinship with Kelly's black metal roots. Meanwhile, "Heart Is a Far Light" and "Fruit Tree" are easily the brightest and most accessible songs he's written to date, full of swelling synths and soaring harmonies. He finds a middle ground on the rangy centerpiece "Dans Ce," which manages to be at once atmospheric, propulsive, introspective, and even somewhat danceable. It all makes for a complex, often beautiful debut album that affords Kelly even more expression and possibilities than what he's done before.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares