“The Opening of the Gates,” the first single from Luke Howard‘s All of Us, sounds a note of relief and muted triumph, imagining the end of quarantine restrictions and the resumption of an old life ~ or the beginning of a new one. One of two tracks that features Ben Lukas Boysen, it retreats briefly to a tone of melancholy as if to acknowledge all that has passed. But as this is the opening track on Side B, we may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Instead of leading with lockdown, we preferred to hint at a happier ending.
Boysen also appears on the Side A opener, “Critical Spirit” ~ an overture pointing toward a personal and societal struggle. One might read the title in at least two ways: critical meaning crucial or meaning giving criticism. While each reading matches our current sociopolitical climate, Howard seems more of an optimist, leading us to believe that he is referring to the indomitable human spirit ~ though the album was partially inspired by Camus’ The Plague. In like fashion, he may be observing that we are all sinking in the same quagmire or that it will take all of us to reach an extraction point.
The entry of the Budapest Art Orchestra (last heard on Rutger Hoedemaekers’ The Age of Oddities) raises the music to the sublime. “A Different Idea of Love” is overflowing with spiritual resonance, while “An Hour Off For Friendship” is as yearning as its title implies. Between the orchestral tracks we hear Howard at his piano, lonely and locked down, his keys a quiet solace. “The Closing of the Gates” is an unhappy ending, but fortunately it’s only the ending of the first side.
Now we’re caught up. On Side B, we begin to realize that the album has a central melody, first introduced at the end of Side A: a refrain that at first sounds plaintive, but whose tone changes through repetition, implying perseverance and endurance. During each subsequent wave of the pandemic, we’ve needed to repeat our faded notes of hope, lest they become rare or extinct ~ to remind each other that shared isolation means we are not alone. (Richard Allen)