The cover art for Con Dolore’s This Sad Movie album is a photo series showing a boy wooing a sad-looking girl, trying to win her back perhaps, and the girl spurring his advances. These two states of being—wooing and crying—are at the heart of This Sad Movie. At one side of the album is a sentiment like “All I know is how I felt when I first laid eyes on you”. At the other: “I feel lonesome, I feel tired, I feel broken, I feel wired”. In between are years of untold stories about people, about the ways they entice each other, the ways they bless each other, and the ways they break each other’s hearts.
Con Dolore play dream-pop, music that floats around in a light, spellbinding way. But their approach is also rootsy and earthbound. That duality is fitting for an album that lyrically is focused on both starry-eyed infatuation and the darker reality of sadness. The group heavily uses percussion and synth, and has both male and female vocalists, Kristy Moss and Ed Ballinger (though Moss’s vocals dominate the album). These are two more sonic balances that highlight that bridge between the ethereal and the gritty.
The songs here are melodic pop tunes, yet they swirl around in various dreamy ways. They’ll occasionally break into a dance (“All Our Favorite Cats”) or a haunting ballad (“The Happy Girl”). They also have quite a dramatic side. Any band that titles an album This Sad Movie and has what is essentially a short film displayed on its album jacket obviously has an interest in cinema or theatre, and Con Dolore cast their music in that light as well. Moss’s voice tends toward the operatic at times, and the music always pushes the vocals towards emotional heights that hold little back.
If the group intended This Sad Movie as an album-length audio movie, or as an album with a story to it, at least, I’m not sure if that tale gets told clearly. Then again, the album-jacket photo-story also ends ambiguously (is his escorting her to the taxi a sign of his giving up or a sign of success?), so perhaps clarity isn’t the point here. What This Sad Movie does well is get across the moods of sadness and hope. The most blissful song is the melancholy closer, the title song. “This sad movie’s over and done”, the lyrics go, but still, “I can’t let go”. Now the storyteller’s sad that the sad story has come to a resolution. Sadness is catching, the song hints. And the music is there to support the staying power of sadness, as the song slowly unfolds a mood of quiet resignation—a giving in to the state of being sad—and then explodes with a larger, more sweeping sound as the singer confesses that the sadness is impossible to escape, that it’s “always inside”.