Only Dan Berridge could make claustrophobia sound so beautiful. Diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, Berridge packed up and moved from London to the sleepy seaside town of Worthing. Four years of pain, frustration, and anxiety comes to a head in Compassion, resulting in a melancholic, hazy progression through ambient electronica and progressive rock. Released on Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, Compassion departs from the label’s trademark retro-futuristic lounge and takes downbeat towards darker, moodier territory.
Berridge effectively sets the tone of the album from the first track. “Who’s to Blame” is a lovely, haunting tune that moves in on the trail of a far-off, Asian-inspired flute solo. Whispering bells, trembling strings, and fuzzy guitars swirl together into a melodic, dramatic haze of sound. From this point on, it becomes readily apparent that this is not your usual downtempo chill-out album. Berridge loads each song with meaning, allowing only brief glimpses of hope and plenty of despair.
The rest of Compassion is similarly muted. “For the One” boasts a lovely, mellow acoustic guitar that sets off a gravelly, soulful voice which ebbs and flows with a dense arrangement of strings and atmospheric noise. Even “Femme Fatale” barely rises above a whisper, using barely-there brushes of sound, soft pianos, and moving strings. The song develops slowly, adding percussion and increasing intensity in microscopic intervals.
Berridge controls the level of sound with each passing beat, never allowing one element to overshadow another. Some of the album’s more abstract cuts, such as “Life of a Refugee”, paint delicately textured sonic portraits. He combines soft clicks and snaps with sounds of trickling water fountains, blending these with soaring choral work and politically minded vocal snippets. A determined voice repeats “war is never easy” over the smooth wash of music, suggesting an inner turmoil and fight for peace inside of Berridge’s beleaguered mind.
Other standouts, such as “Quiet Revolution”, blur the line between progressive rock and ambient electronica. This song, in particular, uses crackly static, whistling, and touchingly emotive strings as a counterbalance to detached singing, rambling upright bass, and an assertive drum pattern. The result is strangely comforting, yet loaded with anticipation and muffled energy. “No Pain” follows on a similar path, this time incorporating a jamming electric guitar and scattered pieces of psychedelic rock and a Hendrix-inspired guitar solo. Berridge reins in passionate touches, as he does on “London Broken Heart”, an affecting piece of harsh drums contrasted with nasal woodwinds and arpeggiated horns, to create compacted, uneasy, and paradoxically gorgeous pieces.
Compassion truly stands alone as a solemnly beautiful reminder of human suffering. Though heavy and complex at times, the album speaks of a conscious human spirit full of life and determination.