There’s a space for depressing albums, although only a narrow sliver catch our ears. The key is to cover a sad subject in such a way as to draw empathy, or at the very least, attention. An article in The New York Times about elderly Japanese people dying alone captured the heart of Constantine Horizon (Desolate Horizons). The stark subject first inspired last year’s EP Being Alone Together, and now this album.
Desolate Horizons is the perfect name for an artist covering such a topic, and the cover art is the ideal shade of grey ~ although the central shadow seems more threatening than morose. The elderly families in the article died alone in an apartment complex outside Tokyo, but the composer expands on this theme, calling loneliness a modern-day affliction. Not that loneliness is anything new, of course; but in the modern era we’ve developed a new strand in which we compare notes via social media and come to the conclusion that everyone else is having fun without us. We are both more connected and more disconnected than ever, despite (or because of) the fact that there are more people on earth than ever before. It should be easy to escape loneliness, and the gap between expectation and reality leads to a harsher inner collapse.
Horizon admits that the album “took a lot out of him.” There is a great tenderness in these chords, which dance on the outskirts of drone, snippets of sound advancing and retreating like attempts at connection. The track titles tell the story: “I Wish I Could See You Again,” “Unwanted by the World,” “Waiting for Someone Who Won’t Come Back.” One thinks of Alzheimer’s patients, or those who have simply outlived everybody. Then one remembers the human condition, and the fact that these feelings can arise at any time, at any age, even childhood. The color can drain from any existence. The world can seem washed in grey. In the middle of the set, when the rain falls, one thinks, of course.
A Modern-Day Affliction is an album of feeling. The first feeling is a visceral reaction: this is slow, sad, and mournful. The second (one hopes) is empathy, which flows in both directions: we feel the empathy that Horizon has for his subjects, and for the condition of the world ~ which includes us. Hearing such emotion, we may glow with an empathetic reaction: first for the subjects in Japan, but also perhaps for the artist, and by extension for a lonely world. The wind chimes of “One After Another” offer a tiny bit of hope at a much-needed time.
Horizon also performs a parabolic feat that makes the album more than the sum of its parts. These fragile pieces grow from silence and subside into silence, living next to other tracks their entire lives without touching, parallel suffering without intersection. But the fifteenth track is a continuous mix, slightly modified, silences removed. A tiny bit of intervention guarantees that they will not suffer in private. All are connected. None will break away and die alone. As beautiful as the individual tracks may be, the story is told by the whole. We are not meant to be isolated; our burden is lessened when shared. (Richard Allen)