I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite a long time, but I’ve been sort of unsure as to what exactly to write. In all honesty, I am not sure that the album itself really knows what it wants to be either, which doesn’t really help matters.
Released on PAWS’ Cath Records, this is a sprawling, messy collection of twenty-three songs, few of which are more than a minute or two long. It feels less like it was an album released with a particular goal or concept in mind, and more like a bunch of songs which were recorded and made available in the hope that the very act of doing so might tell the writer what they are. Maybe even in the hope that if he was able to listen to what it was that he did, he might be able to figure out why he was doing it.
Even the first couple of tracks go from lo-fi indie, to bare-bones synth pop, to a frantic instrumental which borders on computer game music without being bleepy enough to be chiptunes, and then a dreamy acoustic number. By the end of these songs barely six minutes have elapsed, and you’re still no closer to really understanding quite what it is that you’re listening to.
So it’s a mess, in many ways, and sort of an aimless mess at that, but I still find this album – if that’s what we should be calling it – a really compelling listen.
In some ways the uncertain meandering – Dying in the Garden could almost be a lost demo for Across the Universe, just as another example – makes this a lively, rather baffling listen which constantly has you looking up at the stereo thinking ‘what now?’
And in other ways, I actually quite like the uncertainty of identity. It’s like Armstrong has been as generous as he can with his inner thought process, accepted that he isn’t sure where he’s going and very kindly invited us to come along on the journey to see if he can figure it out.
And there are enough ideas here that for all it sounds a bit unsure of its own identity, it’s not a record which seems like it has simply been lazily slapped out onto the internet for shits and giggles. Twenty-three two-minute songs may give the impression of a lot of unfinished ideas, which I suppose you could take for laziness, but that’s not really how it feels to me.
Despite the fact that the songs could be described as sounding unfinished, depending on what you were expecting in the first place, each ninety second package seems to have integrity. It contains its idea, expresses it in a way that gives it space, but no over-indulgence and then simply moves on.
So you can see how this review was a challenge to write, and why I shied away from it for a while. I am still not entirely sure what it is I am listening to here, but the songs are varied, generally excellent, and that sense of trying to grasp the ever-elusive essence of the album just seems to make it all the more fascinating. Odd. But good. And available for free download over at Cath Records.
Sean Armstrong – Dying in the Garden