Hammock‘s Mysterium is their eighth album, and to these ears, their finest. The set is stunning in power, deep in emotional complexity, overwhelming in beauty. And yet, every person involved wishes it never been inspired. The cost was too high.
The album is dedicated “In loving memory of Clark Kern (June 29, 1995 – April 3, 2016)”. Clark is Mark Byrd’s nephew, who succumbed to to the tumor strain NF2. Byrd writes, “We’ve spent a lot of time alone in mystery and silence, and right now, silence speaks within our music more than ever.”
I have a nephew, six years old. I’m also his godfather. I can’t imagine. None of us can imagine.
Here’s what we know. There is love in this album. Love enough to bring a listener to tears, even if they don’t know the circumstances behind the recording. Mark Byrd and Andrew Thompson have created a masterpiece, but they haven’t done it alone; friends have pitched in, doing what they can. In cases such as these, there are no right words, only fragments. The Budapest Art Choir adds wordless vocals and snatches of prayer ~ Agnus Dei. At the end of the title track, they carry the music like pallbearers, reluctant yet determined, bearing the hope of another life upon their fragile tongues.
The strings are like sponges of sorrow, wrung out on the studio floor. If the music reminds listeners of A Winged Victory for the Sullen, thank engineer Francesco Donadello, whose tender touch graces these grooves. But if the music moves you, dredging up memories of loss and sorrow, consolation and hope, thank Clark. His death may have been the impetus for this music, but his life decorates it with beauty. Mysterium is a requiem, but it is also an extension of an impact ~ now shared with everyone touched by its salt. As the cello gives way to the choir on “Things of Beauty Burn”, one senses a slight tonal shift. We cannot change what has happened, but we can choose our response.
The album is a gift ~ to Clark, to his immediate family Angela, Paul and Cole, to everyone who has mourned, is mourning, will mourn. Mysterium speaks of the goodness that appears sometimes in the aftermath of tragedy: the vulnerability of the human heart, yet also its resilience. Not to overcome, but to incorporate: to transcribe suffering into something palatable, something that will help like a draped arm or a heartfelt prayer. The album’s perfection is found in its closing line: there is not enough. No one is fine. No one is okay. Everyone is just getting by. In the words of Ram Dass, “we’re all just walking each other home.”
The empty bench waits, surrounded by fog ~ the fog of unknowing, the thin veil between this world and the next. Perhaps one day Mark and Clark will sit on this bench again, or another one like it in another place. We can imagine such a future, and for those of the Christian faith, there is “one who can do more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Will this music be playing? Will they hear it differently? Some may define Mysterium as music for the soul or of the soul, but it is best described as music of a soul ~ a bright and shining spirit who is now part of our lives as well. (Richard Allen)