A few months ago, we reviewed Jon Carolino‘s Woven, which was written while his daughter Isabella Faith was growing in the womb. After her death, the EP became a testimony to her short life. Ruins is the story of grief.
How does one react after hearing the news that one’s child might not make it to term? For Jon and his wife, sorrow and fear turned to muted hope as their daughter was born and they were able to spend a few precious days together as a family. And yet, this is simplifying the matter. No family, no matter how strong their faith, can pass through such an experience unscathed. God’s promises may be eternal, but deep loss can leave a family in ruins.
In the words of Bob Dylan:
Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.
And yet, for the faithful, there is still hope. Isaiah writes of cities and lives intertwined: “Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb … ‘It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘I will raise up her ruins again” (Isaiah 44:24-26, abb.). This thread runs throughout the family’s grief like the single blue thread required for a Jewish prayer shawl. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Carolino includes both extremes on Ruins, soundtracking the early stages of grief. The heart of the album is a three-song stretch that begins with shock (“I Don’t Understand What You’re Saying But I’ll Pretend That I Do”), continues with gentle love (“Isabella’s Lullaby”), and dives into tears (“Silent Night”). The first of these pieces is languid, nearly unmoving, as if unable to comprehend. The second starts with guitar and ends in glockenspiel. Hints of the hospital are heard in the opening and closing moments. And “Silent Night” proves that the artist is seeking accuracy over popularity; this isn’t a track one would normally include on a summer album. One can hear the artist struggling with the tone of the song, perhaps thinking of the peace it is meant to signify, and the weeping in Ramah.
But the album also contains more triumphant post-rock tracks, some reflecting emotional drama, others catharsis. Reflecting the stages of grief, not everything is a straight line. “Eyes Wide Open” is a powerful overture, implying the presence of larger forces. The seven-minute “XII XXIX XIII” builds to a rich conclusion, offering wordless vocals that celebrate the strength to sing. And “Balloons” rises like helium, soft piano yielding to confident drums like spiritual reluctance giving way to faith.
What’s next? How long will loss inspire, and in what form? We’ve seen two long-term expressions of musical grief (Celer, Richard Skelton) turn new pages in recent years. Our prayer for the artist and his family is simple: for pain to recede and hope to increase. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.