What happened to the places we used to know? The question is nostalgic, melancholic, hanging in the air like a dust mote. A further question, perplexed, shellshocked: What happened to people? And the last, perhaps most frightening question: What happened to me?
In the end, we are only responsible for our own behavior. Tristan Shorr (Gideon Wolf) is using music as therapy while taking the stance of an investigative reporter. On the surface, he’s sharing images of South East London: majestic buildings degraded, concrete cracked and stained, every edifice showing its wear. “Derelict” is their elegy, the violin lamenting the loss of what can easily be measured.
But the album goes deeper than this. Gentrification has continued to take its toll. Shorr identifies himself as “a working class composer, father and human,” an relatable description that places him among “us.” The lines between rich and poor have never been sharper. The Brexit vote continues to divide families and communities, demanding, take a side. But this is not simply a U.K. problem, as border walls, isolationism, and dehumanizing speech are the global norm. In the fifth minute of “Derelict” a beat intrudes, conjuring “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” This is not the future we wanted.
So what do we do when the world goes crazy? We point out the craziness. Then we try to prevent it from seeping into our own lives. If we fail, we become crazy too: perhaps not in the judgmental, me-first sense, but in its polar opposite. We withdraw, become frustrated, bitter, angry and in the worst cases, resigned, depressed, despondent. The darkness of “Loss” brings the point home. Something wicked this way comes.
This is the crossroads of Replicas. Shorr’s struggle is not unique. One might even call this beast “the new normal.” He writes that he is struggling “in a community that feels like it has lost its way.” At this crossroads, some grow so angry they cannot function. Some grow reactive. And others ~ Shorr among them ~ grow reflective. As a new father, he doesn’t want to feel this way. He wants to see hope, and if he can’t see hope, he wants to be hope. And this, remarkably, is what the album is about. Replicas is a sonic diary of an artist trying to make sense of things and creating something lovely in the debris. As the tentative piano notes of “Balance” land, one pictures the composer sitting at his piano, unsure how to express his feelings, unpacking them one note at a time, holding out until the other instruments can get there. The first part of “Retreat” is marked by a fog of strings, but the fact that this music exists is the very clarion that cuts through the fog.
By the title track, the pace of the piano has quickened: the notes faster, more confident, either hurling to their doom or rushing into the fire. And now the thunder and the rain, the scene in the movie where the protagonist reaches the turning point. All music stops. A helicopter passes overhead. Is this the apocalypse? Or simply an apocalypse of the soul? The sonic field is dominated by drone, producing a tone of anticipation. Give up or go on? Accept the way things are or try to affect them? A new father has a secret weapon: a person to fight for. A person not yet jaded, with glitter in her eyes. This is Shorr’s advantage as well. The piano comes back at the end. Daddy’s not going anywhere.
The “2001” pulse returns in “Self-Portrait,” but by now things have changed: a new determination has set in. What was once ominous is now powerful. Shorr has wrestled control of the narrative. Even the dark “Collapse” is the contribution of a reporter. Finally in the closing couplet a bit of light shines in, and the final notes, although occluded, are bright. The places we used to know are no longer what they were. People have changed, but can still change back. I know, says Shorr, because I am one of them. (Richard Allen)