I spent a while trying to put my finger on just exactly what it is this album reminds me of, steadfastly resisting the urge to use yet another correlation to the realm of films, but I can’t help it, really. I spent a good decade wanting to work in film, and as a consequence a significant portion of my twenties was spent watching them, devising and half-finishing scripts, and idolising Jim Henson (amongst many others, but, you know…the dude was awesome. He made a frog ride a bike, which was an exceedingly difficult thing to do).
Why am I even talking about Jim Henson? Pretty much because he created vastly intricate scenes that were gone in the blink of an eye. His visual craft was such that sometimes you only understood how damn impressive it was if you studied it carefully and properly, otherwise it was a deceptively simple, but pretty (or scary, as was often the case in The Dark Crystal) picture. And that’s relevant.
Those two paragraphs aside, believe it or not I intended to mention Hal Hartley, but I’m getting a bit off focus here.
I mentioned this duo at the end of last month, and this release – three weeks later I’m still impressed by it. The last album I reviewed (Conjoined), I liked – to be honest, I favour most things that subvert any pre-existing ideas I have about the way I think things should be (i.e. spoken word and music don’t belong together). Ain’t No Night, feels and sounds like a more assured and fully realised album, to the point where I completely neglected to be aware of that idea. The unison between words and music is almost seamless here, which is not at all to say that there aren’t two unique and distinctive voices at work.
Clearly, I’m not American, so I can’t claim to have any authority on what is (or what makes) an American story, but this is where the Hal Hartley reference comes in, who is American, and told (what I take to be) American stories. Matt Finney’s lyrics – and delivery – remind me of the underlying narrative in Hartley’s films, where the story, the actions and reactions are in plain view, but the viewpoint itself generally comes from the audience – rarely did the actors in a Hartley film imbue their performance with any overt clues as to what they were thinking or feeling; you have the scene and the words…and yourself.
I may be wrong, but I believe this is one of the greater achievements of art, if not its outright intention – that is, to hold a lens to a story or concept – a reality – that is simultaneously reflective, ultimately giving the audience (of any art) an opportunity to participate no matter how introspective or personal the story actually is. Matt Finney achieves this on Ain’t No Night, as exemplified quite well on the title track (a gritty, bluesy number that alternates between acoustic folk and heavier doom/’gaze), with lyrics that, in moments of otherwise silence, have the capacity (and/or tendency) to creep into somone’s consciousness; in a way that – even if no one’s ever said them to you – can make hearing them feel like some sort of vicarious deja vu (if that’s possible).
During the spoken word sections, Heinali’s music is generally subdued, in the same kind of way storm clouds gather and roll across the sky before they break – they’re quiet, but their presence and imminent storm is unmissable. The compositions on this album are a force to be reckoned with indeed, ranging from subtle to palpable.
The intracacies of the music again lie just beneath the more overt surface. The instrumental sections in the first track, In All Directions, are quite searing at first (like when a storm first breaks), but as the song progresses, the sudden and startling ferocity of it recedes and other layers are revealed. To me, it sounds like the musical translation of an irrational, emotional reaction, followed by a gradual calm as more information is brought to attention.
Which is what made me think of Jim Henson, by the way. One of my favourite scenes in The Dark Crystal lasts for about 3 seconds or so – a straightforward pan across a forest that acts as the lead-in to another (story-developing) scene. At a casual glance, it’s a nice scene showing some of the quirky flora and fauna that populates the world, but it’s an amazingly intricate scene if you pay just a little bit more attention to it. The more detail you unravel, the more you understand about the world Henson is trying to show – same thing here with Heinali’s music. It is aesthetically very easy on the “eye”, but you could give that eye a good workout if you had the inclination.
There’s definitely quite a bit going on, both lyrically and musically. It’s like very finely tuned chaos – neither overwhelming or confusing, which may or may not have to do with the relative succinctness of four tracks, but at 35 minutes I warrant it has more to do with careful use of light and shade.
Ain’t No Night‘s official release date is as yet unannounced, but is due late spring (I presume that’s US) on Paradigms Recordings.
In the meantime, you can further whet your appetite with Candidate, their take the Joy Division track.