The Ghost In Daylight
, April 30th, 2012 09:24
As any counsellor or therapist worth their salt will tell you, excessive time spent ruminating is time spent doing something akin to self-harm. The point where you start going over past events again and again, is the point where the logical and linear exploration of an unfortunate or unpleasant series of events gets twisted into a loop that it is near impossible to escape from; where necessary examination of the past becomes a tar pit of depression in the present. Even if you understand what’s happening once you reach this point it's often too late to do anything about it. Like being strapped into some cheap and nasty funfair ride – once you’re on, it’s nearly impossible to get off again until it’s over. And then it’s only a matter of time before you willingly get aboard another ride.
So how does one write about this ugly mundanity? This scar on the face of everyday life. The actual thoughts generated are too vicious and dispiriting; the metaphors and similes it creates too baroque. Even manic depressives won’t recognize them as having worth – even they can’t quite remember how bad a down is when they’re up. How does one avoid – no disrespect intended – the heavy handedness of a Radiohead song or much, much worse… something downright emo?
Nick Talbot, who is Gravenhurst, has written a beautiful song in ‘The Prize’. It’s a masterclass in restraint and subtlety. He (like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy when writing ‘A Shot In The Arm’) doesn’t/can’t/won’t look directly at the event itself but looks to the perimeters/to the aftermath. “As the house lights turn/ reveal cigarette burns and the tide line/of last night's cries of despair/that emanate from the underpass and echo back to anywhere/ Still the ties that bind us blind us to the emptiness of the prize.” I mention Radiohead because there is certainly a passing musical similarity to ‘High And Dry’ in 'The Prize' but this is not some lachrymal and obvious attempt to push your buttons (and this is exactly what Radiohead's song is, no matter how ruthlessly effective you may find it) rather, spiritually, this is something that finds melancholy brotherhood with Robert Wyatt, given that it allows one the dignity of hope. It contains the fleeting promise of transcendence, a helping hand to pull the listener out of the self-destructive loop of rumination.
Unusually for a single - just 6’38” long - it is also a great example of delayed gratification, with Talbot only allowing himself use of his fine collection of guitar pedals right toward the end of the song. In fact for its sparing use of luxurious strings, this song should be played to Messrs Gallagher, Pearce, Ashcroft et al in order to convince them that when it comes to the writing of “string laden ballads”, less is almost certainly always more.
'The Prize' is actually, ostensibly about the faintly ridiculous notion of being a struggling professional musician in 2012 and gearing up for one last fight against oneself, a seemingly indifferent public and the monolithic yet fatally damaged structures of the music industry. This fight is an attempt to produce something of purity and artistic worth (despite this aim, in some respects, appearing a pointless and thankless task). But we really should be thankful that we have people like Talbot still plugging away, honing their peculiar craft with artistic and moral compass still intact. Even if this may at times make them feel like one of the musicians on the deck of the Titanic solemnly performing 'Nearer My God To Thee', knee deep in icy water.
Artistically (if not commercially), Gravenhurst remain WARP’s most successful foray into the world of guitar music. On ‘Circadian’ we get a bewitching blend of Takoma influenced finger-style guitar picking, breathy and un-plosive 10cc style backing vocals and the delivery of what sounds like a pseudo-ephedrine soothed Simon and Garfunkel. This album calls to mind many different artists from Shack to The Dream Academy to Slowdive to Alexander Tucker. Like Tucker his songs initially appear to be gentle, rueful folk ballads on cursory listen but a decent pair of headphones reveals deep pools of shimmering reverb and a submarine world of echo. These are still audio waters containing complex depths worth diving into, revisiting, pondering over, dwelling over, dwelling in. And given repeated listens his lyrical concerns also reveal the more modern concerns of serial killing, urban architechture and isolation. (I should, for the sake of balance, say that there’s a song on The Ghost In Daylight about soldiers that I’m not that keen on but it will still no doubt end up being one of my favourite albums released this year.)