Alan Wilder was sort of Depeche Mode's George Harrison—the soft-spoken if unsung keyboard architect of the band's blacker celebrations. He's better working from someone else's blueprints: His solo work as Recoil is more about run-on sound design than it is about songs. But to his credit, Wilder's also the guy whose early Recoil tracks hipped Moby to the potential of sampling old blues records. With subHuman, Wilder returns to the blues, working with singer Joe Richardson for an album of agitated, lumbering tracks that dive sampler-first into post-Katrina angst and hard-won catharsis. (Lest we forget he was in Depeche Mode, Wilder indulges Dead Can Dance-y stuff with Kate Bush sound-alike Carla Trevasis, who fits Goth-perfect into the ominous, seismic synth-shift bass lines.)
Though Wilder's aural palette can sound dated—the film-score strings, the herniated trip-hop beats, the murky production—he uses it to bring an operatic chaos back into the electronic canon, even if it can make for exhausting listening. With their lofty themes of base natures and divine intervention that Nick Cave would have (and has) been proud to pen, subHuman's tracks routinely clock in at eight-plus minutes of shape-shifting over skittering, processed beats. But the artistry here is as indulgent as it is necessary: As Moby mines the blues from a there's-an-epiphany-in-here-somewhere preciousness, Wilder doesn't clean anything up or strip anything down. He keeps it raw and primordial, sometimes to a fault. On the album's best track, "5000 Years," Richardson may go on forever, but at least he goes somewhere, resolving a grinding, Katrina-oriented blues commentary about God and destiny on a well-earned bed of Wilder's heart-tugging strings. There's not a dry ear in the house.