“The Spaces in Between,” the new single by 40 Watt Sun, rolls in gently, with sparse guitar, brushed drums, and a wistful piano line — and sticks to that chamber-folky dynamic throughout its 10-minute run time. If this is your first exposure to the musical world of the band’s leader, Patrick Walker, you might be surprised to learn that his background is in metal. The U.K. singer and guitarist made his name fronting Warning, whose epic dirges turned despondency into something monolithic and searingly beautiful. Since 2009, across two excellent albums by his current band 40 Watt Sun — named for a lyric by his favorite band, neo-prog heroes Marillion — he’s experimented with just how many of the superficial trappings of that style he can shed while retaining the same emotional gravity. Now, with “The Spaces in Between” (the lead single from the band’s upcoming fourth album, Perfect Light, due in January) we have a definitive answer: pretty much all of them.
In Warning, Walker would often mark the climax of a song by kicking into a higher vocal gear, a kind of anguished bellow that perfectly suited his tales of longing and solitude. With 40 Watt Sun, he’s kept his singing more measured, relying on its almost eerily timeless character: Taking in lengthy tracks like “Beyond You,” from 2016’s Wider Than the Sky, it was easy to picture him as a lonely troubadour wandering some ancient English countryside. On “Perfect Light,” he sounds as relaxed as he ever has, coming across more like a campfire crooner than any kind of conventional rock singer. But he can still stop you cold with a simple vocal flourish, like when he stretches out the first syllable of the word “ooo-O-vercame” early in the song, giving it a twinge of melancholy. And when he sings, “Mayyy-be in some way…” during the first chorus break, he throws in a hint of old-school R&B yearning.
Overall the song shows how confident Walker has grown in his basic materials. His core themes of loss, regret, and the almost gravitational pull of the past are still here (“I dare not now return for the roar of memories/Or to see how slight a trace we left of our lives/In another time, in another place …”), but there’s a softer edge to his rumination. When the song rises to its emotional climax — “You’re traced in everything I touch/You are the rhythm of my days/And the spaces in between” — he keeps his delivery soft and steady and grabs the ear not with a crescendo but with an unexpected chord.
The greatest songwriters can you draw you in closer the quieter and more understated they get. Patrick Walker is at his softest here, but he sounds as arresting as ever.