Muerte en una tarde de verano (Death on a Summer’s Day) may be the most charming, most hopeful album about death that you’ll ever hear.
We humans generally avoid confronting our mortality. We shut it away, both literally (in hospices) and metaphorically (by putting it in the big box of things we don’t talk about). When someone comes along and tells us—as I am now—that this is not an effective strategy, we have a tendency to turn away, to disengage. Some readers will have already closed this review. No matter: Death is waiting for us all, there’s no avoiding it. Actually, as Sergio Díaz De Rojas has learned, it’s much healthier to live with a knowledge of death. Remembering that “it just happens one day,” he writes, “[is] a very good reason to pay attention to what really matters.”
During the pandemic he was confronted with the unavoidability of death and it forced him to cast his mind back to his teenage years when his grandfather, a musical genius who played for diverse orchestras and bands in Peru, took his own life. “My mom tried to hide part of the truth from me, but he was a public figure so I eventually found out,” he recalls. “Naturally, I was sad to lose my grandpa, but I think I was too young to understand what it truly meant to lose someone you love in such a tragic and unexpected way.”
Death showed Díaz De Rojas what matters, and what matters is what lies at the heart of this album for it is a depiction of how he would choose to spend his last day. Beginning with a field recording captured by Jakob Lindhagen of the quiet noises of the world waking up at dawn, “Amanecer” eases into existence, its muted piano notes full of melancholy, then opening out into a beautiful chorus filled with rising arpeggios. At 3:45 you’d be forgiving for thinking the piece has ended but it suddenly resumes, shifting into a reverb-filled tape-warped shadow world. This final section has congruences with similar sections later in the album and is crucial to understanding it, serving to remind us that death is always nearby and that this should be a reminder to enjoy the beauty of the life we have. As if to confirm this, the next track “Flores secas en un jarrón hecho a mano” (Dried flowers in a handmade vase”) depicts Díaz De Rojas’ practise of collecting flowers and leaves from places he visits, the dry but beautiful husks of life serving as a reminder of the good times.
Throughout the album Días De Rojas’ gift for memorable melodies, effective arrangements and eloquent sound design is in evidence. Grandfather De Rojas recurs later in “Canción para Otto y Elsa” (Elsa is the great-aunt who helped Díaz De Rojas become the pianist he is today) but the heart of the album is the composer’s wife Seraphina, of whom he writes:
you are soft sunlight on a spring afternoon
a misty autumn morning
the moon and ocean
It is through love that Díaz De Rojas has found meaning. It imbues everything he touches, making the mundane profound. A box of postcards becomes a precious treasure, a cat hiding among plants represents innocence, a glass of wine upon a piano recalls a special evening. The gorgeous fifth track, with lyrics and vocals by Lo-Fang, is clearly a love song for Seraphina and closes with the line “the melody contains a way”. In Muerte en una tarde de verano Díaz De Rojas shows that he has found a way to embrace life in all its bittersweet complexity. His gift is to show us that we too can find a way. (Garreth Brooke)