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THE APARTMENTS – APART: REVIEW



THE APARTMENTS

apart – vinyl reissue (Riley Records)

 

IT IS POSSIBLE for an album to be tender and joyful while never shaking loose a patina of unspoken, and maybe unexplainable, sorrow. Sorrow that is a little beyond melancholy without ever really nudging despair.


Some of this feeling cannot be divorced from hearing the album now – on double vinyl, with extensive liner notes and a sense of subtle luxury – in a context wholly different to its initial CD release in 1997. More on that soon. But most of it is embedded in the nature of the songs, in the subtext of the sounds and in the capacity of singer and songwriter Peter Milton Walsh to illuminate the small or the personal, and particularly their fragility, even when set against a larger background.


It is possible for an album presented through a voice that seems never to have spoken louder than a murmur, to have a sense of rhythm and forcefulness at times that punctures incipient bubbles of gloom with almost strident intrusion and casual flair. Flair that is more softly debonair and observed in relief rather than demonstrative.


Some of that is in the players, most noticeably Chris Abrahams on anything but discursive piano and Jeff Crawley on trumpet, who between them position The Apartments in the ambience of night-time pop and post-midnight jazz, and then throw back curtains to reveal sharp, bright light. But surprisingly perhaps, most potent are the contributions of Ken Gormley on bass and percussionist Gene Maynard, creating fluid and sometimes even louche moods that lean into more dangerous nightclubs and grooves languidly funky.


apart then, is an album that navigates past the too-easy definitions of mood, sound and style: more complex and more finessed, accompanying melodies that enrich.  But where does it land? Here, the other arm of Walsh’s sublime talent, his lyrics, begins to fill in the shaded areas. Or at least give us the tools to fill in the areas ourselves.



It’s an important distinction because as Walsh says in the accompanying liner notes/essay, “I had long ago been seduced by the tension between what is revealed and what is withheld”, and even when the topline narrative seems straightforward, ambiguity exists.


The joy of a life given purpose and the languor of summer play their own games of seduction, even for someone like Walsh for whom the heat and harsh light had always held questionable appeal. But there is also the intimation of paralysis by that seduction, the ideas or the actions or the possibilities allowed to drift away by the very thing that seems most appealing.


There is the way the demarcation between the moment and the moments passed – not just chronologically but emotionally – begins maybe as a testament of youthful valour that thereafter continually teeters on the edge. Is looking back wasteful, at least redundant in its premature nostalgia? Does it diminish that which has happened by repetition or reinterpretation? But if loss is possible, probable, maybe even imminent, is not the past the only certainty?


And within the song are “characters” so artfully sketched as to be whole stories: independent of the narrator’s voice as they mostly come in the first person, but not fixed to a single personality; described in context but breathing and shifting through our eyes.


Walsh’s beautifully written essay, 6000 words of rewarding insight and care that takes on a short story’s character, devotes a significant portion of its time to a series of real world interactions across two continents and five years with a woman called Nina. It is a story and a series of interior interrogations that climaxes on the album’s final track, but underpins the tone of the rest of the songs on apart, in that space between present and past that we can tell ourselves is the future.


Walsh tells us that these songs were written and recorded in the time when he and his partner were fixed and no longer rootless, their son, Riley, a centre point, a reason. There is tenderness and love. There is also, we now know, a mere two years more before a loss that will shatter so much. A loss that will be the foundation of a set of astounding and movingly brilliant songs, No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal, that will not be heard – could not possibly be presented – publicly for 15 years.


And a loss which for Walsh will colour the songs on this album that, in a similar way to Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, seems to portend a future and is heard forever in that context. An album carrying an ache of indeterminate shape, while leaving space for your own ache. Which is quite special.





 

 

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