The general tone and mood of a year can often be reflected in its music. If the first new record I’ve heard in 2009 is the soundtrack to the coming months, then I think I’ll just hide under my duvet until 2010 rolls along.
A Journey Down the Well are a trio of two Swedes and a Turk (Martin Bjelfvenstam, Anna Erneman and Taner Torun) who make music that fits the bag marked post-rock / neo-classical crossover, but who sound very little like most of the acts who share that increasingly overfull niche. There are no grandstanding displays of virtuosity, and no warm, lush and comforting pieces. This is music that is fairly sparse, and exceedingly bleak.
Sorry Monsters, I Have to Grow is an explicitly political album. As is often the case when writers use a language that is not their first, the lyrics often have a strange turn of phrase and an unintentional ambiguity that somehow works. The words on “Happy Bird Day”, for example, don’t read well, but fit the music. It’s a plea against intolerance and bigotry that is coupled with a desolate backing that seems to be resigned to that plea falling on deaf ears.
On the first two tracks, the trio are aided by the Strandvägen Choir whose mournful, phonetic phrasings make them sound more like a ragged band of refugees than a classical chorus. “Sugarman” is a jarring track. Its eerie cello figure and voice sound like the embodiment of human suffering. “They create a history out of lies and they call it future” is the age old, but still depressingly true, complaint that history is written by the winners and the powerful.
There are moments when the generally oppressive atmosphere is lifted. “I Will Never Become What I’m Afraid Of” is a charmingly ragged ballad, and “Two Beautiful Swans in a Dirty Lake” is a richly beautiful violin / cello duet. It opens with a robotic evangelist (is there any other kind?) seeing Heaven in a vision of two swans on a dirty lake. Christians do have that cheesy tendency to proclaim as miracles anything that is out of the ordinary or unexpected, but the juxtaposition of beauty amongst filth is more a general metaphor of hope amongst despair.
The moments of hope, though, are fleeting. “New Abandoned Places on Earth” is a percussion-heavy epic instrumental that has echoes of post-punk acts like 23 Skidoo and Savage Republic. As the US-backed Israeli forces wreak havoc and death upon the civilians of Gaza, it’s a chillingly apt and timely piece of music.
Sorry Monsters, I Have to Grow has some parallels with recent albums by A Silver Mt Zion. But where the Canadians never let go of the hope for a better world, A Journey Down the Well seem to despair that nothing can change, and that the weak and defenceless will always be the victims of the powerful. Like Towering Inferno’s Kaddish, it’s not always an easy album to listen to, but nevertheless a brave and ambitious work that deserves to be heard.
2. Sorry Monsters, I Have To Grow
3. I Will Never Become, What I’m Afraid Of
4. Bush Horror Movie Soundtrack (Some People Will Never Listen To Music Again)
5. Two Beautiful Swans In A Dirty Lake
6. Happy Bird Day
7. New Abandoned Places On Earth