Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Paul McLaney is doubtless among this country's most prolific musicians. But one of his finest series of albums this past decade were under the name Impending Adorations and they were seductive electronica available digitally (through bandcamp, here).
And therefore they went past most people.
This album was in fact recorded back in 2016 with pianist Raashi Malik, a spare series of songs which aimed for a similar effect as the hypnotic Impending Adorations but without resort to the modern technology, just back to essentials: the song, the words, the piano.
When the recording was finished however it was a noisy world and these thoughtful and sometimes hymnal-folk songs didn't seem to fit, or be able to find a place, in a world of rowdy haste.
Well, the times have changed rapidly and in this more silent and spaciously-open atmosphere McLaney and Malik have released it on vinyl and through bandcamp (details below).
Ironically then -- amidst the songs of personal concerns like Damage Control (“here we are, caught up in this mess she's made”, the “she” not necessarily an individual at a guess) and deep considerations -- lyrical lines now leap out with new meaning.
As on the title track where McLaney sings, “hours set out in minutes, the speed of life compared, measured out in moments by those of us still counting, the world outside is broken, the pieces piled up into mountains . . .”
Those broken pieces can be read more as a metaphor than literally.
And on If Words Were Always Spoken With The Honour of Their Intent, “then the sentences unspoken would underline what's meant, and raise a voice above the noise that drowns out honesty”.
The two final pieces For My Will is Strong (“there is strength yet in these tired limbs, wisdom and experience blur the lines between right and wrong, it lifts me when hope is gone”) and Lifemark (“think it past the first idea into the space where dreams collide”) are affirming balms of wisdom, the kind we can only fully appreciate when in a state of emotional quiet.
Such as has been imposed on us.
The title here refers to the notion that following tradition doesn't mean repeating the past. That way is a limitation on the mind and denies the possibility of change and development. Rather, tradition can refer to the spirit which binds the past and the present and permits the artist to understand their place in this world in relation to that past which disappears off into the distance . . . but remains ever-present and perhaps a guide.
That means these lyrics deal with universal truths so those comments above about how relevant they are now might just be a diversion from the true depth here.
In a brief piece McLaney wrote about these songs he said, “As the songs evolved I understood that The Old Traditions are fundamentally the emotions that drive us. No matter how far we evolve technologically we are still hostage to the basic human emotions; fear, love. jealousy, grief, joy, sorrow etc.
“From this perspective I wanted to state my take on each of these emotions with the idea that my young children would have these songs to better understand their father when they are my age and older; singing across time.”
There's that big picture behind these quiet but deep songs which roll out across piano which at times nudge towards pop ballads as on the lovely Victory: “Oh Life why hast thou forsaken me? Oh Life, I sure could use a victory. Well family and friends, they have a way about them when your chips are down, darling. They offer words designed to please, they pour tea and sympathy until it drowns you . . .”
There is a subtle cabaret-cum-front parlour mood on Promises of Eden and Many Ways to Love sounds like newly minted but classic slice of meditative balladry. It is just gorgeous.
These are quieter days, literally, for many of us, and as the old marketing slogan once said, “quiet is the new loud”.
This kind of intelligent, poetic and poised quiet is very seductive. And perhaps even necessary right now.
You can hear and buy this album (on vinyl in a wonderful cover by photographer Ludovic Florent) at bandcamp here.