Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Corpse: Songs About Tanks by SLONK

Countless artists have written songs about breaking up, but few break-up albums cannonball into the deep end of that experience like Songs About Tanks, the new LP from Bristol's SLONK (real name Joe Sherrin). This record isn't funereal and sombre like The Boatman's Call; nor is it as resigned a farewell as The Walker Brothers' classic break-up song Make it Easy on Yourself. Most end-of-relationship albums, even the really angsty and depressing ones, find some sort of closure by the end, but Songs About Tanks isn't so much about finding closure as it is about painting a devastatingly detailed picture of the immediate fallout. There's no real 'journey' here, no healing process that ends with our protagonist getting over it and moving on - this album simply seeks to capture exactly what it's like to have your heart ripped in half.

And it does that very well indeed. Sherrin has a great eye for detail, and his lyrics do a superb job of documenting the tiny little pains that follow the end of a relationship: changing your passwords so that they no longer include your ex's name; realising that the little songs the two of you used to sing to each other will never be sung again; going back to their flat, the one you used to share, and noticing that all the photos of you have been taken down. Rather remarkably, the lion's share of Songs About Tanks was written and recorded within a week of the break-up that spawned it, so as a listener you feel very close - almost uncomfortably close at times - to the centre of it all. You feel like you're standing right there at ground zero, looking over Sherrin's shoulder as he surveys the debris.

Mind you, Songs About Tanks isn't a totally bleak listen. It actually opens on a strangely optimistic note with a song called We're Both Going to Be Fine:

I find this track positively uplifting - it's nothing more than a voice and an acoustic guitar to begin with, but it quickly swells into something big and beautiful, with a violin and a piano and several other voices gradually joining the fray. Eventually, it builds up to a cacophonous, soaring climax, with the assembled singers chanting "we're both gonna be fine!" again and again until you're compelled to believe that it's true. (Whether Joe Sherrin himself believed those words when he wrote them is debatable, but it's a lovely start to the record either way.)

Given the context, Songs About Tanks could have been a very lonely album, but it actually doesn't sound lonely at all - each composition is fleshed out by a whole bunch of musicians besides Sherrin, giving the impression of friends rallying around a heartbroken comrade and trying to lift his spirits. Even when the lyrics are at their most desperate and existential, there's great comfort to be found in the lush. layered music itself - indeed, aside from the one track that sounds like Beirut, SAT's overall sonic palette reminds me more than anything of Comfort Songs by Cloud. These arrangements are like big, raggedy blankets that are slightly tattered but nonetheless soft and warm.

Because of this, you may not notice just how gut-wrenching this album is on your first couple of spins. One of the tracks on Songs About Tanks is called Bridges, and it features a truly harrowing line that is nonetheless very easy to miss. I didn't notice it at all until I found myself reading the lyrics as I listened along:

"By then I'll be higher up in the rubble; for now I'll sleep with our corpse"

The 'our corpse' part sort of gets lost in the mix, Sherrin mumbling it quietly as he gears up for the chorus, but that one line offers a jaw-dropping image that sort of encapsulates this album as a whole. Our protagonist knows that he will get over his ex and get on with his life eventually, but for now, all he feels like doing is wallowing in the 'rubble' of their time together - the photos, the in-jokes, the memories - and hugging the lifeless body of their relationship in the vain hope that his warmth might revive it.

You can get Songs About Tanks from SLONK's Bandcamp page.

No comments:

Post a Comment