Ray EP


Wampus, 2022


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


There it is again: the forever dance between the light and the dark.

It’s an image that, well, flickers by when contemplating the throughline traced by Waterslide, a.k.a. singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Mark Doyon, as he follows 2019’s sunny/sad Flicker EP with its sad/sunny other half, the Ray EP. Here the ever-playful, occasionally inscrutable Doyon guides us through a dream landscape full of portent and promise, innocence and guilt, one that’s characteristically both challenging to parse and steadily compelling.

Doyon is first and foremost a storyteller. While he’s chosen to hold back the precise source of inspiration for the series of character studies laid out in this five-song set, he acknowledges that the circumstance residing at its center—a kidnapping—is based on a real event. That caginess is both charming and essential, requiring listeners to supply our own answers to the questions Doyon asks in the course of this narrative arc.

Opener “Lunchbox” is rich with looming atmosphere, using a repeating acoustic guitar figure, evocative fiddle and lush background vocals to conjure up a subtly haunted soundscape, as Doyon sings of a child boarding a school bus, contemplating deep questions about their life (“why does it get lonely / when the world is awake / why does a dream feel real / when it’s fake”) and then realizing they’ve forgotten their lunchbox. Returning guest Dan Hochhalter’s fiddle lends the whole exercise a yearning, elegiac quality.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second track introduces us to school bus driver “Frank Ed Ray” with sparkling acoustic guitar and mandolin, a brief, rather sing-songy sketch of a simple character who seems to radiate positivity (“all I want to do each day / is make this loop with you”).

Turmoil and conflict arrive with third track “Negative Space” as a stately piano melody introduces an unfulfilled soul who’s “at war with myself / and everybody else / starving at the banquet / bleeding, no tourniquet.” Initially somber, at 1:43 the song takes a left turn, with drums and multi-tracked background vocals erupting into the brief chorus, then falling back. It’s theater-of-the-mind stuff, the disjointed thoughts of a narrator losing his sense of self and possibly his mind. Audrey Karrasch’s harmony vocals lend pathos, making the narrator feel like a tragic figure, though clearly damaged.

“I Dream Of Open Skies” finds an imprisoned person “straining at these shackles / wilting in the heat”; it’s a pretty dirge, almost funereal, that cultivates a claustrophobic feel while dropping religious allusions, until we catch the muffled murmur of a police radio in the final moments. Closer “Underdogs” manages to be playful and eerie all at once, an initially airy number that eventually features layers of acoustic guitar, piano, synthesizers, bass, and drums, as Doyon asks “if a body catch a body / coming through the rye / do they hold a patch of open sky?”

While the Ray EP opens with an almost linear narrative, “Underdogs” offers more questions than answers about how the scenario resolves (for example: is the strategically named school bus driver Mr. Ray the hero here—a literal ray of light shining down—or something else?). And maybe that’s the point; how do we, the audience, want the story to end, and why? What does our perspective on that eternal dance between the dark and the light say about us?

To the extent that songwriting (and poetry) have rules, the principal one is that you want to be precise enough in the words you choose to draw your audience fully inside a moment, while remaining impressionistic enough to allow the audience to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. It’s something Mark Doyon once again achieves here: there are striking ideas and images and moments, but the meat of the story is left up to the listener to construct in our own minds.

In short, Waterslide’s Ray EP is art—five songs, 18 minutes, and an entire world rich with innocence and danger, mystery and revelation, the dark and the light. Go on, climb on board that bus and see where it takes you. You might be surprised.

Rating: A-

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© 2022 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wampus, and is used for informational purposes only.