2012 was a gloomy year orchestrated by an omen of senseless hysteria that ended in somewhat of an anticlimax. Provoked by an ancient calendar that, like all things, ran out - humanity demonstrated its finest moment of stupidity since December 1999 when, according to the clever people, we'd be thrown into chaos and life as we know it would collapse thanks to the mythical Millennium Bug. Nothing changes really!
You're probably wonder at this point what I'm jabbering on about so I'll cut the shit: Amongst the year of certain doom Dexter Tortoriello (better known as the excellent Dawn Golden & Rosy Cross) and his partner Megan Messina collaborated on a concept album under the name Houses to be released May 27th of this year, 2013 (we made it!!!). A Quiet Darkness tells the delicate tale of a husband and wife separated amidst nuclear abomination, as they attempt to reunite one last time before their demise.
Unfolding with the stunning 'Beginnings' the narration picks straight up, flaring in orange light as houses crumble to the ground and birds fall from the sky. A stark difference from Tortoriello's previous work is immediately clear in the form of atypical instrumentation, vocal delivery and the very welcome presence of band-mate/partner Messina.
'The Beauty Surrounds' follows neatly in the same vein as the album's introduction but with a more Múm-esque arrangement. The track also introduces more prominent vocal hooks, a vital element to preventing sombreness from appearing simply dull, and it'd done very well in the chorus as Tortoriello sobs "oh my god I'm wasting away”.
A moment of particular strength is 'Peasants', which strangely seems to be the centrepiece of the album, though a little earlier in the running order than one would think. Carrying a steady engaging rhythm and melody, the song is easily the most appealing for someone who wants to dive right into an album with no strings attached; as a piece of music it is serene yet demanding, intimate yet huge and all in all just fucking brilliant. Lyrically, when regarding the concept of the record it seems that in this moment our protagonists have met their end before they could ever reach a final embrace: "I've been digging up the bones/and your body is a dirty ant hill on the lawn/and I swear to God/You are my iron light/And I am your dark tonight".
Following on from 'Peasants' (give a song or two) the record starts to become a little repetitive and seems that the narrative of the album is not necessarily a straight line. Perhaps it's that until the moment when 'Peasants' is unleashed we seem to be following a series of events, if only because the wife in the story isn't dead until we're told so… so where can the narrative go from there? With reference to some form of afterlife we do continue, but again, this is no War of The Worlds or The Wall which isn't necessarily a bad thing but rather just a confusing one when attempting to take in some form of continuity as a conscious listener.
It seems that, in fact, rather than a concept album A Quiet Darkness is a concept collection of eleven songs all pretty much about the exact same thing in different musical settings (which could be interpreted as the different houses, but still discards traditional narration). It is vital to now mention that all the songs are definitely GOOD and that the album remains interesting to a point, but after some truly impressive material clustered together at the beginning it seems that it might have been more worthwhile to spread out the gems rather than let the candle fizzle out, so to speak.
A Quiet Darkness is a record perfectly portraying beauty in the face of death. The record is musically stunning and boasts some truly fantastic instrumental pieces that are as visually inspiring as the songs, such as 'The Bloom' a gorgeous string-based composition. Individually there are moments of true awe spattered here and there, the album's title track is a deep thoughtful piece and 'Smoke Signals' carries the ethereal beauty often found in M83's earlier work.
However, to tackle a concept record is an extremely difficult feat due to the vast amount of requirements an artist has to fulfil to pull it off. Having never experienced a nuclear disaster myself I'm not able to say for certain, but the explosive environment and turn of events would surely be more dynamic than what we're given here? Unless the husband & wife were sadly killed immediately in the first blast? It could be that the entire story is following ghosts? Lyrically, we see a recurring theme which works very well but clashes heavily with itself due to the placement of certain songs.
Do you want your story to make sense, or do you want you music to progress in a nice dynamic? This record takes the approach of the latter and sacrifices the storyline for the sake of the casual/musical listener rather than the kid sitting cross-legged with the lyrics. Again, this is not a terrible thing by any means, unless you're pushing the conceptual themes as hard as this album is.
A Quiet Darkness is a truly pleasant listen for those who enjoy the likes of Efterklang or Múm; soft, thoughtful, deep music carrying an underlying message that you do or do not have to tune in to. Whether or not you choose to follow the story of these two characters is up to you, but if you don't it certainly won't be the end of the world [forgive the pun].