Islands Part 1 (Pieater)
When I was a kid I had this thing for years where I would wake up – I knew I was awake, not dreaming, I told myself – but I couldn’t open my eyes. They weren’t sealed, they weren’t covered; they just weren’t opening. I couldn’t force them. I couldn’t even move my arms to get my hands up to force them open.
To try and stem the rising panic – this time for sure I was never going to open them again, and be blind for life, or at least til I was 13, which was the same thing – I’d try to focus on what I could tell was happening around me. There were voices somewhere inside, there were noises outside, there was rustling and movement. But what were they? Who were they? Why couldn’t I make out exactly what was being said? What bloody time was this anyway? For all I knew I would open my eyes and it would be pitch black. Maybe that’s what was happening. Jesus.
No Mono’s Island’s Part 1 is a lot like this. And I mean that positively. Well, mostly positively.
That is, this is a deeply fascinating album where Tom Snowdon’s voice and Tom Iansek’s sonic landscapes pull you in and shift the air around you so that space seems in constant disturbance but time is in stasis. Piano rises from the bottom of greyness in Water’s Edge but light never entirely arrives; there’s a Cure-like throb-and-tremor through the bassline in Future; and the semi-liquid drums of Desert shift rather than nail anything down.
It feels miles deep, with songs such as Frostbitten seemingly bottomless and Otherside not giving up its borders. And it suggests, hints at, teases meaning without making firm settlement on any answer. Certainly without coming to any resolution.
But Islands Part 1 also creates an internal disturbance, an uncomfortable realisation that you aren’t ever at peace here.
When the rising warp of the backing voices and constant hum of the synth meet the edge of uncertainty in the weft of Snowdon’s lead in Butterflies, a quiet dread descends. And stays. We’ve already been caught up in the ambiguity of Violence Is Broken (Is this warm? Is this chilled? Can you feel them simultaneously?) and Butterflies now nails that blurry feeling even more firmly. This is only song two and there’s 26 more minutes ahead. Dare you open your eyes?
That’s how and why Snowdon’s lyrics seem to come at you from just outside understanding. You can identify individual words but the tone subverts them. You can detect separate feelings but never entirely grasp them in some concrete sequence. Everything happens at the edges.
There’s a part of me which wants to explore those words, and one day I will, but for now I am keeping them deliberately just diffused enough, enjoying, with a sense of dread alongside the curiosity, the way they merge with the night throughout these songs.
And I haven’t even mentioned Oh, This House Is Empty, which makes my skin prickle. Which solidifies the notion already raised on the record that Antony & The Johnsons have left a mark on these two. Which draws the album to a close as if saying sleep, don’t sleep, it doesn’t matter, you’re already lost.
With eyes wide shut.