That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, plays acoustic and electric guitar, and creates all his own music, including beats and percussion. He’s produced an extensive catalog of outstanding alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix. The result is a varied and eclectic sound, delivered with exceptional guitar work and distinctive vocals that remind me at times of a young Bob Dylan.
I’ve featured That Hidden Promise on this blog a number of times over the last three-plus years, most recently just two months ago when I reviewed “You Can Have the World”, the lead single from his new album Who Knows Now?, which dropped October 2nd. The album is an ambitious and meticulously-crafted work featuring 12 tracks that, in Lee’s own words, “explores what it is to be in these times, through the joys, the frustrations, the anger, injustice and how do we even know what our place is in this world anymore?” The album was recorded and entirely self-produced, mixed and mastered by Lee between March-May 2020.
The album opens with “Intro“, an ominous instrumental track with a harsher and more psychedelic feel than any previous songs I can recall hearing by him. The spooky industrial synths and mix of wailing and distorted guitars set a darkly beautiful tone for what’s to come, and I love it. Next up is “You Can Have the World“, and as I wrote in my review of the song, Lee’s intricate layered guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It’s an electrifying and powerful wall of sound for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics that speak to finding strength through one’s confusion and rage over a corrupt and unjust system in order to survive and ultimately rise above it: “You can have the world if you’re gonna pay / Though have you got the nerve to fail again and again / Those who lead won’t keep you down / They may seek acclaim but it’s clear / If I win, If I fail in this world, Ain’t a damn thing to do with them.” I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.
On “Your Own Enemy“, he urges us to live our own truths and forge our own paths forward in life: “Cut out all the voices, all the actions not working for you / Act free Act simply Act in your best interest / Forego your ego / Your shackles, release them / Construct your own self, not one projected for you.” Over a driving rhythm of throbbing bass and urgent toe-tapping beats, he layers a mix of gnarly and jangly guitars, all of which makes for a rousing and satisfying folk-rock song.
“Caught in Yesterday” is a breezy and pretty tune, with lots of great guitar work and pleasing horn synths. The lyrics are an assurance of unconditional friendship, acceptance and standing by someone,: “You’ve got nothing to prove to me / If the world should split in two I’d be on the side with you / If the world should break in four we’d belong for evermore.”
Following on that thread, “End Game” is pre-apocalyptic, and speaks to finding acceptance and peace of mind when the end does arrive: “As we reach the end game / As we near our time don’t let fear sweep over / Just learn to free your mind / So take me with you to paradise / Away from conflict Away from these times.” It’s a musically complex and stunning song, and a real testament to Lee’s impressive songwriting and musicianship. The song opens with an ominous-sounding drumbeat, accompanied by gentle industrial synths, then a lovely strummed guitar enters along with shimmery synths, softening the mood as Lee begins to sing. Eventually, the languid vibe is briefly interrupted by a flourish of screaming guitar, only to calm back down. This back and forth continues through to the end, punctuated by some really stellar guitar work. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
As the album progresses, I’m struck by how really good every track is, as well as the variety of melodies, textures and sounds he’s used. It holds our interest from one track to the next, keeping the record from ever feeling monotonous or predictable. “One Day Other Than This” is a melancholy but lovely song with his heartfelt vocals accompanied by gentle string synths and beautifully strummed guitars, whereas the gorgeous “Stop Praying For the Sun” has a sweeping cinematic feel like a song you might hear in a Western movie soundtrack. Lee explained to me that lyrics are about not waiting for things that are out of your control to happen (praying for the sun), and also whether what you’re doing or where you’re headed is just delusion: “A new delusion of false design / If the best of times will come / Stop praying for the sun.”
“Not In This World (Or the Next)” has a folk/Americana vibe, with a bouncy, head-bopping beat and lively riffs of jangly guitars. That Hidden Promise seems to ponder about our purpose on this earth: “I’ve given more than I can take / How much longer should I have to wait? / There’s time to come, there’s time to try / You give your all, but is it right? Alright.” The hauntingly beautiful “What Lies Beneath” is another favorite of mine, thanks to its eerie melody, piercing synths, and incredible guitar work.
That Hidden Promise turns more hopeful with “Calling All You Seekers“, a poignant ballad about holding on to our sense of adventure and optimism, and never giving up: “Calling all you seekers / The places yet to go / The majesty of wanderlust forever taking hold.” And even more so on “In the Night Time“, a celebratory folk-rock song about grabbing hold of one’s dreams and trying to make them real: “In the night time I’m inspired, and I just can’t settle / On fire / And this fever burns inside.“
The closing track “Screaming in My Soul” seems to be somewhat auto-biographical, or at the very least, touches on some of the demons that plague musicians and songwriters if I’m reading these lyrics correctly: “Do you know what’s it’s like? To have a demon strip your soul / Well I know /All the songs that are trapped in my head / All the words that are lost in some black hole / I wish I could know how to bring them home / Got a screaming in my soul now.” Over a pulsating hypnotic groove, he layers swirling synths and a mix of intricate guitar riffs and textures to create a mesmerizing track.
With “Who Know Now?, That Hidden Promise has created his best work yet. It’s an exquisite album filled with exceptional songs, and his impressive songwriting, musicianship and production skills are evident on every track.