Death is not the prettiest of things, and yet, it has fueled the most beautiful of music: Aural undertakers like Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, and Modest Mouse. More recently, indie darlings the Arcade Fire, with their album Funeral, took the topic of mortality and opted to celebrate it with their orchestral arrangements and all-round triumphant atmosphere, akin to a resurrection without the messiah.
On the other end of the spectrum, we get folks like Piano Magic who don’t take demise all that well, instead deciding to mope by focusing on the inevitability of it all. Driven by a particularly despondent strain of existentialist ideals, they are content with slipping into a pit where life and limb breaks down by the forces of time and circumstance, happily wallowing in the mires of gloom and doom.
is the brooding Londoners’ sixth album. As veterans, they take their brand of epic shoegaze-soundtrack-meets-embellished-electronica and elevate it into the level of a magnum opus.
The album’s opener, “You Can Hear the Room”, begins with a surefire way to kick start the impending waves of melancholy, with a Gorillaz-like jerky bass line. The rouser is sprinkled with sporadic Ennio Moricone-esque riffs, eschewing the adventure for the desolation of the Wild West, as if sketching the dying cowboy hero as he waits for his end this is the 21st century “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”. As the track progresses, the curious layers torment our protagonist with the clutches of regret, a sporadic, though intense, wall of sound that shoegazes him to death.
“Disaffected” is a lush melodic swirling descent into madness of the Radiohead’s Idiotique order. The title track features the guest female vocals of Angele David-Guillou, who remarkably sounds like a host of other French divas, breathing Parisian class into the proceedings. And as she sings the focal line of the title track, “Set your clock by your heart”, we could almost hear a faint tick tock, a funereal countdown. The melody meanders into a climax of a coda where computer clicks and digital bleeps shape an all-compassing atmosphere of heaviness, shaping a dark place where hopelessness is a prison and despair are its walls. It’s a 5 by 5 foot cell, and I’m crouching in a cringe of torment, the sole respite of my misery lying in the surroundings of tasteful music.
“Deleted Scenes” sounds like a New Order single. The electronic thumping bass is a representation of the various shades of black. It is a disco song of doom, where people spastic gyrate in some kind of desperate dance, clinging on to the vestiges of a life in the form of evanescent hedonism. In other words, this is the song for the zombies. It is where the Evil Dead come out to play, cursed ones partying their wretched existence away. And perhaps what is utterly despairing about this scenario is that this is no horror movie. As far as Piano Magic is concerned, this is the state of our sorry lives. There is no eternal sunshine to distract our not-quite-spotless minds from this shitty reality.
However, as resplendent as the 11 tracks that comprise Disaffected are, things do get overly depressing after a while. I don’t see any daisies sprouting out from this grave. There is no cycle of life and death, no hope, only a downward spiral of doom. This is claustrophobia of the highest order, confining the listener to no other possibility other than the one of perpetual grief. Alas, there is no Dylan Thomas defiance, raging against the dying of the light.
“I live in the past, because it’s too strong”, laments frontman Glen Johnson in “The Nostalgist”.
Dude, honestly, get over it already.