Her Space Holiday’s Marc Bianchi has always been a little preoccupied with death. One of his earliest albums was named Home Is Where You Hang Yourself so it’s no surprise that Bianchi’s self-titled final album as Her Space Holiday is more obsessed with mortality than ever.
The following is a partial list of words that appear on Her Space Holiday some multiple times: Broken, Burn, Choke, Coffin, Death, Demons, Die, Eulogy, Fever, Fire, Flame, Funeral, Ghost, Goodbye, Grave, Harm, Haunted, Hell, Kill, Lifeless, Pain, Ruin, Scar, Self-abuse, Self-destruction. And this doesn’t include track titles (“Ghost in the Garden”, “Death of a Writer”) or phrases like “the boy in the ground that nobody wanted”. That’s a whole lot of thanatopsis in roughly the amount of time it takes Rachel Ray to make a meal on TV.
Bianchi’s unique form of orchestral indie-tronica has always been contemplative, but he has proven he doesn’t need to be death-obsessed to be deep. Bianchi spent the majority of 2008’s XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival talking himself down from the ledge he had stood on for so long, and the result was a consistently interesting album. Like XOXO, HSH is consistent, just not consistently good.
I’m a guy willing to overlook some over-the-top lyrics. I went through my Bright Eyes phase like everyone else in my age bracket. But even Bright Eyes’ retirement album didn’t contain half of HSH‘s clunky references to self-hatred and death. The fact that these weighty songs are paired with optimistically fluttering flutes and bouncing bassoons as though cartoon bluebirds are about to burst through the window and hang everyone’s laundry makes HSH feel clinically depressed. Deluded, even.
“Ghost in the Garden” tells the story of a young boy and girl who fall in love and then each die of the plague, and it would be a poignant tale of fated love if it wasn’t so over the top. Bianchi’s ability to create lyrical patterns rather than a set of words to repeat—songs where every chorus is distinct yet interconnected—is impressive, and his songwriting is not lazy. It’s just impossible to take seriously sometimes. “Ghost in the Garden” ends with the line “We are the ghosts that won’t be forgotten”. What does that even mean?
“Death of a Writer” begins with chamber piano and the boo-hoo lament “If the death of a writer brings life to his readers / Then what does it mean that I am still breathing?” It brings to mind the recent work of Tim Kasher, both as a solo artist and a member of Cursive. Mama, I’m Swollen ended with a failed writer saying his Moby Dick was more like “scratching lyrics on paper plates”, and the palpable bitterness behind the image gave it power, whereas Bianchi whispering “The enemy is yourself / I know him oh so well / You can see me in Hell” lacks the same oomph. Kasher’s laser focus and attention to detail, even when overwrought, beats Bianchi’s generic images of “the ribbon tied round the old tree” and “flames licking at my hands”.
I have to give Bianchi credit for creating some songs that stick in my head, chief among them opener “Anything for Progress” and the Disney-style sing-a-long “Come On All You Soldiers”. But no matter how pristine the production or careful the arrangements, there’s little here to salvage HSH. For serious fans this might be a pleasant enough kiss-off—a victory lap to a respectable discography. But if this is the sound of Her Space Holiday’s final knell, Bianchi might have waited a little too long to pull the plug.