When the bulk of an artist’s releases consists of single track 20+ minute exercises in gentle layering of drones and soundscapes, an album of ten separate songs averaging at a little under four minutes each – the norm for most recording artists who lie outside the experimental circles – might be seen as his most daring release to date, and this is exactly what We Make Life Sad is in Nicholas Szczepanik’s ever growing discography. Pleasingly, it works out brilliantly.
Any long time listener of Szczepanik’s music would be instantly taken aback by the album’s urgency; the straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense manner in which the album kicks off. A beautiful guitar line reminiscent of Slow Dancing Society’s or Celer’s best works repeats itself in a sea of ever-evolving feedback, growing in stature with time and the guitar fades into a distant memory – and memory is what this album is all about.
We Make Life Sad is a series of Polaroids, barely in focus, but bringing to mind certain events and people. The source material goes from barely identifiable to a signal of sound, something you’re sure you’ve heard before but damned if you remember where or when. Traces of past lives come to life in a blur and it is Szczepanik’s ability to lay them down, cut them up and deem them utterly unidentifiable that makes this such an interesting listen. It’s like a puzzle waiting to be solved, a story that got all jumbled up with only the beginning and the end held in mind as fact, the rest is hearsay and time-embellished nostalgia.
Nostalgia is one of the most focused upon feelings in experimental music, a strong emotion that almost everyone can relate to. We have seen The Caretaker make a career out of tampering with it and Ous Mal becoming ambient music royalty by tapping so deeply into it. It is as universal a feeling as they come and even though it has always been a part of Szczepanik’s portfolio, never has he explored and exploited it so magnificently until now. Whether or not this new track format is a sign of more things to come from him in the same vein is for us to find out, but with it and by getting himself out of his norm or comfort zone, he’s struck brilliance, and we’re all the luckier for it. (Mohammed Ashraf)