When someone experiences a significant breakup or loss of a romantic partner, there is usually a rush of conflicting feelings. Sometimes they manifest in betrayal and anger. Sometimes there is only shock and an inability to process the event. But more often than not, the most overwhelming feeling is one of deep mourning over the fact that something that was once good and beautiful is now gone. The mind spins trying to make sense of everything; relishing memories, attempting to sort out how we got from there to here. On the title track and album opener of Angelo De Augustine’s excellent Tomb, he captures this initial feeling perfectly, at once evoking remembrances of a beautiful relationship, wondering how it is now gone, “I walked into your life at the wrong time / never quite been perceptive of real life / it was not your fault or a fault of mine / but it’s hard to let you go this time.” It is more than mourning; it is a search for justification, a deep and resounding “why?”
Part of what makes these lyrics so powerful is the instrumentation. In a soft falsetto comparable to Sufjan Stevens (his label-mate and owner), Augustine’s double-tracked vocals hover over soft guitar plucking, with subtle piano underlying the second half of the track. The result is melancholy, melodic, and incredibly captivating. However, this is not your run-of-the-mill indie-folk record. The following track “All to the Wind” calls to mind a McCartney-penned Beatles track, with snappy piano-pop chords and subtle guitar parts providing more layers. “I Could Be Wrong,” sounds like something from the Postal Service or Sufjan’s Age of Adz, with a simplistic electronic beat and minimalistic synth textures. This album is no sleeper; at no point does the instrumentation feel mundane.
What makes this album stand out is the way it intersects beauty and pain. The record was written in 2017 in five days – December 20th-25th. The feeling that it evokes is similar to what many feel around the holidays. For a lot of folks it is a time of reflection and reckoning with one’s place in life within the context of somber beauty. The chorus of a stand-out track, “You Needed Love, I Needed You,” captures this reflective mood, “Life’s been hard and you’ve lived a few / did I give too much love to you? / I’m sorry but it’s what I had to do / you needed love and I needed you.” It’s heartbreaking in that it recognizes the situation, but does not desecrate the beauty that once existed in the relationship.
This song also exemplifies effective songwriting in its use of images that are specific enough to give the listener a clear picture, but also general enough that most people can relate to them without being generic. “Back in my hometown looking for a silver Honda / but there’s too many all around / and I fear I’ll never find you / so I walk around.” Everyone in the civilized world knows what a silver Honda looks like, yet it’s a specific enough image that it feels real, allowing the listener to attach their own associations to it and cry right along with Angelo.
While much of this album deals with heartbreak, it also goes beyond it. That is to say, the breakup is not isolated; it is contextualized in the songwriter’s world. Hushed acoustic track “Kaitlin” invokes memories of family, “Mother left you in the night / my father faded into the same light / now we’re both hoping to find someone.” The record has wide vision and it immerses the listener deeply into its world.
Tomb leaves you feeling refreshed in the way one feels after a good, healthy cry. It’s not panicky or hopeless, but an honest attempt to reckon with loss that is just as normal and human as it is to weep for things worth weeping over. It is appropriately named, as it is a monument to something that was at one time good and beautiful that deserves to be remembered in the minds of the artist and listener alike.
Score: 8.8 (Best New Music)
For info on how we score album see https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/