It was 3pm – 3:30 maybe – on an Autumn Friday afternoon. I had just got back from a Parisian studio, where our mad sound directors had asked me to dub an actress walking in high heels for one of our films (true story). Earlier that week, Simon of Bella Union had sent me the new Money album, which was obediently waiting until I could listen to it in the right conditions.
The office was quiet. Everyone was busy and silent, so I put my headphones on, I cut myself from the world, and I pressed play without knowing that, minutes later, I would have to discreetly dry the tears flowing down my cheeks in a very shambolic way.
I wish I could explain what happened with the most accurate words, but I already know that I can’t. The best I can do is to say that, above all, it was a very physical reaction, an electric shock, powerful, astonishing, but not crushing. Just like in one of those movies when the main character finds himself caught up in an emotional whirlwind that’s too heavy to be dissected, too raw to be identified properly when it happens; or just like one of summer’s unexpected, torrential rainfalls, which rages madly for what seems forever, before suddenly giving way to a dazzling sun between some dark, threatening clouds.
“What I’m trying to say it’s that I don’t want to be god
I just don’t want to be human”
I’ve always been fascinated by thunderstorms and how they can switch from pure violence to absolute quietness, from darkness to light, in a split second – boom! – and I think that’s exactly what Suicide Songs did to me – ‘I Am The Lord’, ‘I’m Not Here’ and ‘Night Came’, especially.
Through to its end – the flickering, stumbling and beautiful ‘Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic’s New Year’ – the album left me stunned. It was like I had smashed my head into a wall: the difference here, however, is that with this record the wall opens up after the first shock and you find yourself back to a hopeful square one, without realising how you were able to return. A musical Sisyphus myth.
“If I can give you a piece of myself
I would give you a box of night”
Even before I had listened to it in its entirety, I knew that Suicide Songs was going to become one of those rare records that would carry me for years. An album that I would listen to compulsively, sure, but not everywhere, not anytime. At the top of my hometown mountains, maybe. On the long Icelandic roads, in the middle of those surreal lunar lava fields. By night, walking in a Paris emptied of its life. By night, mainly.
But it was the afternoon of Friday 13th November. And everything was about to tumble.
“Night came very fast
As if it had fallen over drunk”
For days, locked in my flat and in my head, distraught, I couldn’t listen to any music. Hours of silence and emptiness that only one album eventually filled: Suicide Songs.
I was terrified to introduce this record to the point afterwards, where nothing seemed to make sense. Not because I didn’t want to associate it with death, but because the effect it had on me the first time was so overwhelming that I was scared I would collapse, swallowed by a wave of suffocating emotion.
I was wrong.
“All my life, I’ve been searching for something
So I always ended up with nothing”
Each track on Suicide Songs is an internal storm, but also an extraordinary light in the middle of infinite obscurity.
The guitar notes, full of reverb, almost smelling like summer peace. The drums, gently stroked so they won’t be wounded. The undefinable timbre, between a scream for help and absolute bliss. The admirable slowness in a world where the perfect popsong has to, supposedly, be under two minutes and thirty seconds. That plaintive brass and their majestic melancholy. The turbulence of the words, dancing together like they’ve been sewn by the most delicate hands; arrangements that make your head spin; strings climbing up the walls; celestial choirs from another world. An outburst of sounds, instruments, complex melodic structures like some sort of brutal rollercoaster. And this voice, like a perpetual Ariadne’s thread in the middle of chaos: losing control, then rising to the surface – before drowning again – rising and drowning and rising and drowning – constantly.
And then it’s over.
“When I was a child I made a deal against the sun
That if it died out that I would carry on
So you can feel and you can see
That it’s all real
And you won’t have to cry”
The storm has gone. No one is totally unscathed. There are some visible scars, but also a new hope at heart.
I have never been in the eye of a real cyclone, but I guess that the brief feeling of appeasement before the lightning and the wind come back is close to what Suicide Songs has achieved musically. It carries in itself, in the way its notes are assembled, in its melodic structure, and how it’s painted brightly by Jamie Lee’s poems, the insane expectancy of an exit door somewhere: a light at the end of the tunnel. A possible breathing. The air I was cruelly starved of in the weeks following Friday 13th November. The air I sometimes lose when life becomes inescapably oppressive.
“I’m married to the sky
I’m a servant of the hour
I’m open as time
And I’m perfect without power”
Since then, I’ve been listening to Suicide Songs on repeat: everywhere, anytime. Day. Night. Six feet under. Aloft. In my bed. In other people’s beds. In idyllic locations. In the seediest of places. When the escalator gets outside and I’m suddenly blinded by the sun. When I drive too fast. When time passes too slowly. When I need to breathe without feeling choked. Like each of its songs is the beginning of a perpetual epiphany. Like an unsuspected release when asphyxia is too close.
Special thanks to Benjamin for his very precious proofreading and help.