The Sound of Someone Leaving sums up our universal loss in the time of quarantine. While the album was written to convey the bittersweet mingling of sadness, anger and resolve that surface in the wake of a crashed relationship, we’re all losing people and things in 2020: a loved one, a romantic interest, a way of life. This music speaks through metaphor ~ and in the physical edition, through tactile nostalgia.
Phil Tomsett (The Inventors of Aircraft) has recorded a stunner, whose loops operate like old tapes, haunting the mind. Aaron Martin contributes cello, adding a layer of emotional depth and setting up a contrast between repetition and moving forward: the aftermath’s tug-of-war. Ian Hawgood masters the project on reel-to-reel, contributing aural authenticity. And Fluid Audio wraps it all in an exquisite package, with old books, slides and photographs conveying the fact that bittersweet memory is universal. The cover image alone conjures melancholia as we realize that this beautiful woman may no longer be around, or may be advanced in age by now. And yet, her beauty is captured here in a timeless fashion. Did someone once look upon this photograph and regret lost chances with a lost love? Do we look upon this photograph and rue the fact that we were born decades apart? In a second version of the image, the eyes are scratched out, a possible moment of anger leading to a lifetime of regret.
While listening to this beguiling music, it’s easy to slip into melancholia. In one sense, the past is dead and gone, yet in another, it’s been resurrected for this release. As Peter Gabriel sing, “I’m digging in the dirt to find the places I got hurt.” The choral vocals of “It’s Not an Escape, It’s a Release” and other pieces provide a similar sense of elegance. Memory can be revisited, reanalyzed, rewritten. While in some cases we might lie to ourselves (“It was never going to work out anyway”), in others we might show signs of emotional maturity (“I learned from this; I became stronger; I can look back and be grateful”). The religious connection is cemented with the title, “Jacob’s Ladder” ~ every rung goes higher, higher. By the end, there’s even an (unintentional) joke in that the final track title is “Today’s the Day I Walk Away (with Aaron Martin). Even this speaks to a healthy purpose, as Tomsett does indeed walk away with Martin by producing this elegy, salvaging beauty from the wreckage.
A tonal shift occurs late in the album as “An Arrangement of Shapes” stops in mid-melody, giving way to a second of shredded silence. The interpretation is up to the listener: is this the silence of absence, or the shock that meant to lead us to recalibration? We can’t stay morose forever, unless we want “tears to be our only food.” From this point forward, we hear Tomsett’s grief through new ears. As Elizabeth Bishop writes, “the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. (Richard Allen)