I said "kiss me, you're beautiful -- these
are truly the last days"
from The Dead Flag Blues – Godspeed
You! Black Emperor.
I guess we have all experienced occasions when strange events or word-of-mouth led us to something of cherished value? In terms of' 'uncharted' records, I’ll never forget the strange journey that led me to check in at the Neutral Milk Hotel or indeed my first ever Walk Across the Rooftops with The Blue Nile. Such moments, when they do come along, leave a lasting impression in terms of both listening pleasure and the thrill of reflecting upon the fortuitous path that guided us. Last Days is a case in point. A delicate mélange of minimal electronica and lo-fi that I might never have happened upon were it not for blindly chancing upon the wonderful, Californian experimental label, n5MD.
Sea is the single vision of writer/producer Graham Richardson
and represents, to quote Richardson, a "fascination with remote and isolated
places". The recurrent narrative theme, we understand, is that of a misguided
voyager, who sails north seeking an abandonment of responsibility. It is a
journey that embraces solitude and self-reflection before bringing difficulty,
danger and rescue.
We begin where most albums might end - a reflective piece
of ambience usually reserved for a closing track or trail-out. Here instead,
it is stretched and explored over 14 tracks, each piece gratifyingly distinct,
yet each a marker buoy on the same oceanic vista. The use of conventional
guitars and percussion to augment the gentle electronics gives a textural feel
to the record. As fans of genre luminaries Yellow
6 or Port-Royal might attest,
this can often provide the added warmth so often absent from over-digitized
An early example of such guitar and software synergy comes in the form of The Safest Place, the perfect accompaniment to leaving shore and watching the landscape slowly disappear from view. Our compasses are set and our course charted… for solitude, tranquility and all the mixed emotions those places bring.
While at times unashamedly dolorous, there are no doldrums on this Sea.
The central movement of the album, from the Harold Budd-esque Mountains to
the joyful I remember when you were good, is anything but becalmed. Saltwater is
a playful tease on Moby’s God moving… and the stunning Your Birds recalls
the godfather of effects, Robin
Last Days allow us to share a uniquely personal odyssey. Although the Sea in question represents a very physical place, the album also works as an inward voyage, a meditation or a Dream sea. Our protagonist may be experiencing something profoundly personal and enlightening but these are easily recognizable yearnings that resonate within us all.
Yet the overriding impression is one of optimism. Last days can only give way to new beginnings. So it is that Sea represents neither death nor doom but rather change. And since change is the only constant in our entire lives, it could therefore follow that Sea just might become the soundtrack of our existence.