Throughout the history of pop music, songs about a desire for love have often been worded in terms that could apply as easily to a desire for spirituality or religion in one’s life, and vice versa. On their latest EP, Dublin’s The Harvest Ministers step down that path. The songs are all love ballads, but they are ambiguous enough to apply to anything that would fill the holes in one’s life. On “Benediction,” a folksy pop ballad, lead singer/songwriter Will Merriman pleas for some meaning in his life: “Give me your benediction / I need to feel you near / I can’t just go on aimless / Or I will disappear.” It’s a beautiful expression of longing for something more in life, for a savior to make things better.
The entire Embezzling Kisses EP lies on similar ground, and is just as beautiful. The majority of the five songs are from the perspective of someone who feels lost, who is at a final turning point of despair, seeking change for the better. What keeps the record from becoming dour or repetitious is both the smart lyrics, which express a viewpoint which is alternately hopeless and hopeful, sweet and somber, and the band’s craft at creating mature, complex pop songs.
The music throughout is mostly mellow pop, with the occasional tinges of jazz or folk. The jazz side especially comes out in the title track, which includes the sort of echoing, yelled backing vocals you’d expect from a swing orchestra and a chorus straight from the Kinks, when they were trying out Broadway-style showtunes. The lyrics bear the mark of the lover who has no one to love, who finds that when people do accept his love, they then turn around and destroy it.
The most dour of all the songs is the fourth one, “Madame Gris,” where the narrator sadly ponders her death and what will happen after: “To each of my sisters, I give half of what they can find.” Yet the beauty of this CD is, at least partly, in the fact that Merriman never stops at just proclaiming sadness and depression. Every song is filled both with the sad fact of loneliness and dreams of escaping it.
This hoping for some hope to come is crystallized in the absolutely gorgeous final track, “Make Me Your Insep’rable,” a love song which is more obviously directed to a tangible person, but still about looking for an antidote to misery. Merriman asks the unnamed other to become the one person he can lean on, as pianist/organist Padrig McCaul sings pretty, right-in-time backing vocals which add a sense of plurality and universality to Merriman’s solitary longing. Before this release, The Harvest Ministers had been known mostly for their recordings on the fine pop labels Sarah and Setanta. This release is another quick but entirely satisfying collection of interesting and intelligent pop songs, put out by another great pop label, March Records.