I’m as much a sucker for one-man projects as I am for subtle, brooding atmosphere, and those two awe-inspiring elements come together as one in Neverending White Lights. The sad truth is, a lot of people don’t appreciate how very hard it is for one man to put together an entire musical project. There are many who would write it all off claiming the guest musicians do all the work, when just getting all of those people together is a challenge in itself. Few people have the energy to conceive such a project, let alone see it through to completion. It is his drive, his creative mind, and his abilities as producer that have me holding Daniel Victor up among the progressive greats.
Hailing from Windsor, Ontario, Victor spent six years of his life conceiving, writing, and pulling together all of the elements that would become his debut album under the name Neverending White Lights. Inspired by film soundtracks, the idea was to make his one-man project sound like a band with one all-encompassing sound but with the added edge of having a different singer on each song. The result is 2005′s Act I: Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies.
With this debut album, Daniel Victor establishes himself as what I consider ‘soft progressive.’ This means that he’s making progressive music without really making progressive music. This first album, along with the two subsequent releases, is most certainly a pop record, but the album’s landscape is changed dramatically from song to song, despite recurring vibes, solely because the voices are constantly changing. Thus, this simple pop album does something other albums don’t by changing its dynamic constantly while remaining strangely consistent. It effectively does the work of an entire prog band’s career in an hour and twenty minutes.
To be blunt, if you’re looking for a record full of flash and fireworks, even the ever-changing vocal dynamic won’t keep you excited. But if you’re like me and you love stirring, brooding atmosphere, you’ll bloody love this record. Before we even get to individual singers, I must point out Victor’s brilliant ability to generate such beautiful atmosphere with just the right sounds and production values. Every instrument and device used is expertly manipulated to create a subtle and entrancing atmosphere to keep the listener emotionally enthralled at all times. Every time you listen to the record you can sit back and single out things you didn’t even notice the first time through. This record, beginning to end, is a G.D. marvel of modern recording.
The whole record is absolutely amazing, so it pains me not to single them all out. The absolute gem on Act I, however, is Scott Anderson’s (Finger Eleven) stunning performance on “I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty.” This tune represents perfectly how Victor has taken all of the singers involved out of their element and made them do things they wouldn’t normally do. The atmosphere presented on “I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty” is unlike anything I’d ever heard from Scott and it’s absolutely lovely in every way. The song gives me goosebumps every time, as does most of the album for that matter.
Two years later we were treated to Act II: The Blood and the Life Eternal. To me, this album isn’t as atmospherically strong as the first, but the song-writing has greatly improved. The reason I say what I say in comparison to Act I is that I view that first record as one long movement — an adventure in sonic melancholy. The songs on Act II are far more song-like and stand out a great deal better individually, at the sacrifice of the album’s overall unity. It’s a fantastic record and has some incredible moments, most notably on Jonathan Bates’ (Mellowdrone) “The Warning,” and Rob Dickinson’s (Catherine Wheel) “Where We Are.” Daniel Victor also sings more, including a neat rendition of Hole’s “Miss World,” and the wonderful single “Always.” His vocal performance on the latter kind of reminds me of Danny Greaves’ work on The Watchmen’s Slomotion disc.
My favourite song from Act II (and actually my favourite Neverending White Lights song period) is “The Living” featuring Coury Palermo of Lynden. Not only are the song and its hooks emotionally stirring, but Palermo’s vocal performance is pro. His delivery is positively breath-taking and is at once passionate and tortured, while maintaining absolute strength. I rarely hear a performance like this from a male vocalist, so it totally blew me away.
Daniel Victor followed this up with the very short The World Is Darker EP (exclusively released through iTunes) containing “The World Is Darker” (featuring Melissa Auf der Maur) from the second album, a dance remix of “Always” from the same album, and an awesomely sombre cover of Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater.” The download is worth it for the last track (although I’d personally recommend trying your very best not to get it from Apple).
Act III: Love Will Ruin was released late in 2011. It was a long friggin wait, let me tell you, but it was well worth it. While the album doesn’t have as many tracks as the rest, it sees Victor delving into more upbeat musical realms. The sweeping instrumental piece “Theme from Love Will Ruin” is incredible and sets the stage well for this great batch of songs, going as far as to add some nice distorted guitar and driving bass to the mix. Standouts for me include Todd Clark’s (Pilot Speed) “Starlight,” and Victor’s own “Say Hi For Me,” the latter ripped right out of the gloomiest parts of eighties pop.
I’m also really into “The Greatest One” lately. What begins and ends as a melancholic post-love song spirals into a brilliantly lovely plaintive bridge, including the first use of a chipmunk vocal effect that actual sounds oddly beautiful! This song is very important to me as one of the very best examples of Victor’s poetic ability. The lyrics here are perfectly chosen to convey the tragedy of a one-sided break-up or unrequited love. That being stuck still carrying the torch for someone who doesn’t quite feel the same way.
Perhaps the best song on the record is Daniel’s duet with Bed of Stars, “Falling Apart.” This tune keeps the eighties-gloom-inspired sound intact while also managing to ramp up the speed a little bit. The urgency in both singers’ delivery makes it especially memorable. I also really like “Ghost Ship,” despite Steve Bays’ (Hot Hot Heat) initially annoying iPod commercial vocal style. That’s not to say Bays isn’t good at what he does, I just didn’t like the style very much. The voice grew on me after a while and it suits the vibe quite well. The song is really quite sweet and it’s hard not to sing along to.
As of writing this, I really hope Victor is moving along on the fourth album. He dedicated some time to an eighties-style electro-pop project called Black Ribbons, which released one album, Neuromancer, in 2012. Much to my torment, I have yet to track this one down. The fourth act of NWL is said to see a 2015 release date, with Chino Moreno (Deftones), Active Child, the awesome Mother Mother, and even the bloody Tea Party mentioned as possible collaborators! Very, very excited.
Neverending White Lights may be a little too pop for most progressive rock fans, so pardon my ‘going there,’ but for those of us space cadets who pay attention to production techniques and sheer atmospheric genius, these records are gold. I’ll close by stating that when it comes to writing, performing, producing, and recording creative, honest-to-goodness, quality art within a major label pop-dominated landscape, this Daniel Victor dude is the real deal.
(This article was originally published by Wave Maker Magazine in April 2013. It has been updated, expanded, and altered slightly from its original form. – Editor)
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.