Thursday, February 11, 2010

A beacon for dark nights - Lamplight

New local music is always a wonderful thing to discover and so, even though Brunswick-based folk-rock ensemble, Lamplight, has been together for a few years now, I only first discovered them a few days ago when, once again thanks to Melbourne’s 3 PBS FM Breakfast Spread, I caught a track from their self-titled 2008 album and was left breathless by the rich, expansive splendour of their sound – music that seemed both grand and intimate at the one time.

A little bit of internet surfing put me onto Vitamin records and, before morning tea, I had ordered a copy of the album, which arrived today.

Lamplight produce a sound that is difficult to describe – it has the warmth, the sincerity and the unpretentious flow of folk, but here it is dressed in opulent strings and keyboards and drums, acoustic and electric, giving the music a feeling of space and size that you don’t normally associate with folk, but still retaining the sense of closeness and camaraderie that you don’t normally associate with prog rock.

The array of musicians that have been assembled for this album pretty well constitute an orchestra – but not one that is there just for a big sound. Rather it is used sparingly, its different bits and pieces used only when they have something to say, a colour to add, a texture to lay.

Lamplight takes you on a journey across the seas – but they are human seas, and the ships that carry us across them are small and vulnerable, built from each of our dreams and hopes, our search for love, and our search for a place to rest.

But the journey is a rough and dangerous one, the seas are littered with sharp debris, and the hope and belief in love that the songs try to hold onto is always shaken by something bigger, and more ghastly, right from the moment that human dreams are first launched to the dark harmonies of the album’s opener ‘Ship in a bottle’.

‘A sun that will not rise’ takes us into a realm of frustrated hopes, but it’s a realm met by music that feels ready to do battle with the elements that threaten it, with strident strings and piano and percussion.

Nowhere are the seas more brutal than in ‘Swallowing the key’, where inanimate darkness banters with turbulent, tumultuous electric violence, battering you around, to images of “Volcanic vomit, charred and charcoal comet .. Crater in the earth, shallow grave rebirth”. Or there’s the more haunted ‘Image house’, where we watch clouds that “are fighting out in the sky .. And the sparks they make hit the ground and fly”, to music that bawls in dark, storm-laden skies, with creepy, wavering vocals and wailing electric guitars.

But the music seems to take a turn into calmer waters when it starts to acknowledge its own defencelessness, its own need for a haven. In ‘Capsize’, we see that ‘this oar cannot move all the water’, and the grandeur of the music seems to rest in the recognition of what lies around it, with Kirsty Morphett’s voice finding its strength not in the defiance that we heard from Mijo Bisan in the earlier tracks, but in resignation. The purely instrumental ‘Amour’ that follows is not a romantic, rosy picture of love, but sad and wistful, its solo violin singing a song of almost medieval heartache and loneliness.

Solace and hope, if they are found at all, are found in the fullness of what lies around us, as in ‘Time is now’, where we “soak the warm, cool sunrise .. It’s all you have in this rolling moment”, to music that finds here a sort of meditative peace that it has not known until now.

But ultimately love, if not the belief in love, is lost, and in the soft, sad ‘One piece to you, one piece to me’, the treasure of love is left at the bottom of the sea, still beautiful, but now left for each person to carry one piece each, as each goes their own way to music that wavers between moments where it is achingly fragile and others where it finds strength beyond itself, and grows, a little sadder, but a little surer, than where it started.

The images of the intimate human heart, and the vast sea and sky, are always entwined with one another on Lamplight. And the music captures the interplay with breathtaking beauty. Its eight tracks are generous, full, rich pictures of a tragic voyage doomed from the outset to shipwreck. But because there is a power and an expanse here that goes beyond the experiences of lone souls, you are left feeling, even when everything comes to ruin, that the sea, and the music, will somehow bring you to shore.

Thanks to Jenny and Matt at the PBS Breakfast Spread for bringing this unique, this hauntingly beautiful album to the morning airwaves.

No comments:

Post a Comment