Since the advent of the Romantic period, writers and artists have lost their interest in the heroic, the virtuous or the perfectly chaste, they have rather concerned themselves with the imperfect, the wretched and the anti-hero. With “Departure Songs”, We Lost the Sea set themselves within this literary tradition that is obsessed with failure, which is not strange considering that this is their first album without their singer Chris Torpy, who committed suicide in March 2013. “Departure Songs” is their tribute to Torpy, in which they explore honourable and epic journeys that turned out into a similarly tragic end.
RELEASE DATE: 23 July 2015 LABEL: Bird’s Robe Records & Art As Catharsis
“Departure Songs” is a very challenging record. It is very rich in its story-telling, and with its narratives being taken from very different thematic sources, it took me quite some time to figure out what the song titles were about. “Bogatyri” proved to be the hardest to uncover, as the word seemingly refers to a kind of knight-errant that features in Slavic folklore. However, I couldn’t find any story within that tradition that was significantly epic, or tragic, that featured more than one of these knights (Bogatyri is the plural form of Bogatyr). In the end my search led to guitarist Matt Harvey’s Behance page, which features all of the (amazing) artwork he created for this album. Here he explains that “Bogatyri” refers to three young Russian men whom voluntarily dove into the flooded nuclear reactor of Chernobyl, in order to prevent a giant explosion from happening. I sincerely recommend you look at Matt’s artwork, and read the stories while listening to the “Departure Songs”.
The uncanny atmosphere of these tales is very well conveyed in the music on “Departure Songs”. The tracks are often built up out of a succession of expressive melodies, each of which take several minutes to develop and play out. With these melodies, We Lost the Sea are able to set a telling atmosphere; a brooding and slightly dissonant mood, that is similar to the music of Beware of Safety, Sleepstream and (the newer) Mono. The music on “Departure Songs” is traditional post-rock, but again the record is challenging in the sense that while talking about dangerous travels, We Lost the Sea venture into some uncertain territory as well.
The “Departure Songs” consist of artfully layered melodies and textures, yet sometimes the music seems to become chaotic beyond control. The horn-section at the end of “The Challenger – A Swansong” is a perfect example of this uneasiness. Listening to this song through a pair of decent earphones makes this passage blow up into a piece of disjointed madness, however, hearing the same song on a home stereo set, sees the same music come to life – still very challenging, but worthwhile when putting oneself to it. Another example, which proves that this is a case of composition as well as production is the choir part on “A Gallant Gentleman”. I personally would’ve sworn that the voices where made with a synthesiser, or some software programme, until I discovered that the band actually hired a girl choir to record it. It just totally sounds like the part was played on a keyboard, but listening to it really carefully reveals that the arrangement is in fact very intricate, and that it takes time to comprehend.
There are several other moments like these, that could be entitled as ‘risky’, which is to say that there is quite a chance that parts of the record could be miscomprehended by certain listeners. But let me assure you, “Departure Songs” is a well-crafted record which sports some excellent musicianship. The pianos and keyboards – courtesy of Mathew Kelly – are very gracefully arranged, while his organ part on “The Last Dive of David Shaw” is celestial. The same could be said about the guitars on “A Gallant Gentleman”, which is a song that ponders the same immortal melody, leaving me breathless a number of times.
“Departure Songs” is a worthy tribute to the late Chris Torpy. The links between the stories of the album and the deceased singer are undeniable, and the fact that We Lost the Sea make such a connection shows how deeply they feel about their friend, even today. This is the way this record needs to be heard, not just as another post-rock record, but one that is worth pondering, that is worth standing still by and look deeply into. Not only thematically, but also musically.