After A Time (Spunk)
“Be honest now/If we all listen, we all mess up.”
“Stay awhile, let’s stay in/We could all use something/So say us: you’re not alone.”
Two lines, two songs but one voice, one message. After A Time, six years since the last Holly Throsby album, Team, comes none too soon for days of existential angst and ennui.
Whether or not songs directly or indirectly address politics and climate, prejudice and stupidity, straightforward bastardry or - if we’re talking the likes of Bernardi, Christensen, Cameron, Pickering et al - all of the above, anything that comes out now can’t help but be seen through this prism.
Is it a call to action? A sop to the reactionaries? A salve? Anger manifest? After A Time isn’t really any of those but it is of its time. There’s a message here, and it’s not one of despair. Or at least it’s not one of abandonment, - of you or me or us.
Throsby often has been that someone to whisper sad songs to you when you needed a friend to cry with – it’s that voice of intimacy and shared solitude as much as her way of confessing without ever actually giving away as much as you do.
This time, explicitly and implicitly Throsby offers faith and hope, telling us we’re not alone, that things can be repaired, that there’s no need to “go leaving well enough alone/cause I’m well and enough for you to hold on to”.
It’s in the voice of a mother to a young child that while “some rocks may fall by chance/and sometimes an avalanche” there is the promise that “I’ll be mountain/The first place to get the rain”.
Less tangibly, it is in the mood of openness and pleasure, revelling in what newly minted author Throsby has described as one thing songs have over literature: that it can express unformed thought via emotion felt rather than detailed.
Take for example Gardening where exploratory electric guitar curves into space around a picked acoustic, and Throsby practically digs our fingers into the dirt alongside her, feeling the “earth sing” as her dog eats a leaf beside us.
Or Find Your Way Home, where an almost jaunty indie pop band sound of jangle, 4/4 beat and open skies (reminiscent of something Bruce Begley might have written for The Honeys for those over 35 reading this) feels like a nudge to buck up and look around.
It’s even there in the split personality of the achingly wistful (and awfully lovely) Aeroplane, where the need to move, to be somewhere else, is tempered by a not wholly disliked desire to stay because there’s someone who might make staying worth it.
You could even argue that there is, if not outright hope, then at least the comfort of a well of understanding in her duet with Mark Kozelek, What Do You Say, one of the best things Throsby has written for its emotional punch that is not telegraphed or bolstered but just rings so deeply true.
It’s a back-and-forth between a couple well into their relationship and listening in you’re not certain if they actually believe it when she says “I like it when we talk/ What do you think?” and he replies “I’m thinking less … no you say it best”.
Your hesitation is in the things unsaid but also the way the music seems to describe a circle of doubt around them.
In retrospect, especially when played alongside this long, long-awaited follow-up, 2011’s Team feels subdued and to a certain extent worn down.
Throsby’s long absence from recording – not just down to writing her very good debut novel, Goodwood but also some self-questioning of whether she had anything more to say in song - can be better understood when listening to Team now.
But After A Time makes a very convincing counter argument to her decision then. Rich with emotional insight, touched by grace and buoyed by trust, it sounds and reads, and most importantly feels, like just what she needed to do and what we needed to have.