still life ~ for a long time i went to bed early

Providence, RI composer still life (Daniel Fine) has made a huge jump forward in a short period of time.  2017’s EP somewhere in new york focused on piano, while for a long time i went to bed early incorporates spoken words and a slowly expanding tonal palette.  While the album continues the EP’s wistful mood, it also introduces a new bouquet of feelings, stretching from curiosity to empathy and ultimately to triumph.

It’s tempting to view the tape as a storybook ~ to piece together the fragments of dialogue to create a linear experience.  More accurately, the album serves as a photo book, displaying snapshots of connection that underline the commonalities of human experience.  As such, it’s a comforting album, reminding listeners of what they already know but have put aside.  The title implies that the artist ~ or an unnamed protagonist ~ has struggled with depression but is ready to reengage.  In 2019, suicide rates rose for the first time in years, a factor of perceived helplessness + hopelessness, a formula that Fine hopes to counter here.

According to the press release, the album “exists as a bank of memory.”  The mind has often been compared to a treasure trove, if we are only able to view it that way: to dwell on positive events rather than negative, to allow gratitude more space than mourning.  The early music acknowledges sadness without remaining in glue.  Piano and glockenspiel link the closing track of the EP, “grand central, after parting” to the opening track of the album, “dancing / new phases,” but the latter piece travels further in five and a half minutes, as if racing across regret to embrace joy.  Distant, indistinguishable voices are reminiscent of those in Grand Central, where every portal is a greeting and a farewell.  The late-track surge allows it to serve as an overture; step back and one will discern a grand progression from ambience to post-rock over the course of the cassette.

The brief “uneven surfaces” introduces the first narrator, who speaks of ghosts, regret, lost parts.  Still she seems confident, as if coming to terms with her struggle.  Traffic and birds decorate the title track, implying passages swift and slow.  Gently, gently, the drums arise.  Already the album has shifted into a new place, become something it was not, challenged expectations of stagnation.  She’s going to get through this, whatever it is.  By extension, we will too.

“ANOTB” introduces an electronic beat, an even more encouraging sound.  The title seems to make no sense until it is dissected: A Not B, the faulty perception in infants who believe that an object hidden is an object gone.  Doctors write that the misconception disappears after eight months, but it is visible in adults as well.  We may feel that civility, respect, and global unity are gone, but they are only hidden, waiting to be revealed.  The nursery-esque opening of “when i begin to leave” strikes at the heart of universal fear and sorrow; but by the end, it’s castanets.

While the title of the final piece, “falling / absence follows,” echoes that of the EP, it’s not just another goodbye.  This parting yields perspective.  One train leaves, another arrives.  Every passenger is going through something.  Their final pages are yet unwritten.  (Richard Allen)

One comment

  1. “For a long time i went to bed early” is the first sentence of Proust’s “Remembrance Of Things Past”.

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