At Home With...(songs for solitude) Vol. 06 by James A. McDermid
Released on La Petite Chambre Records, this is the sixth round of an inside project facing the outbreak, where an artist is invited to share two unreleased songs. On this release, James A. McDermid allows us to escape to the woods and beyond.
In an on-going series of EP releases with the theme of solitude at its heart, it seemed apt to get to know this sixth entry by James A. McDermid over the past week while listening to it alone — working from home, on walks as part of our daily exercise allowance, unwinding before bed.
During these listens, my experience of this two-track EP has felt like a mixture of holding a black mirror up high to the world and for it to confirm everything bleak within its reflection to have come true, but — and this has become the stronger feeling by far — we will endure and the black mirror will eventually smash and from these shards new light will refract new life.
This is emotive music with hope still beating strong in its heart, despite the dark clouds of despair surrounding it.
The first track, ‘While the Sun Drowsily Blinks’, viscerally translates some of the emotional and physical undertones from the Robert Graves poem, ‘To Walk On Hills’, which connects with McDermid’s — and I bet, something all of us share — love of the outdoors and going on long walks and missing this freedom during lockdown.
This is music which takes us back outside. Borrowing from the Graves poem, it encapsulates not only the physical weariness of walking, but the toll it can take when led by a heavy heart.
It captures a new conflict: the physical elation of being outdoors while battling with a troubled mind.
This is a feeling so familiar at present, where walking in a time of virus has changed in us all what it means to choose our own pathways. What we used to choose to notice and head towards has been replaced by what we now want to avoid.
But there is light in this track. A spell is cast by this blinking sun which we fall under. A narcoleptic wooziness lures and pulls us through its ten glorious minutes. It is a piece that takes us places, beautifully building up to a trance-like state via a tapestry of dancing drones.
We could be walking and listening to birdsong or chiming bells, the wind shifting, fresh water whirling, a blanket of trees waving, or even the earth reverberating. Perhaps even our own voices contemplating.
Before a break, a quiet in the storm appears and time slowly ebb-ebbs away to allow us to pause and be back in a place similar to the Graves poem: “to sprawl in a rock’s shelter” and watch and wait and wonder, while the sun drowsily blinks.
The second track, ‘Hopeless and Chimerical’, is a beautiful beast formed from many moving parts. It shares a melancholy and physical beauty with ‘…Drowsily Blinks’, but here they feel in almost constant opposition to one another.
An earworm drone snakes its way through a shifting labyrinth laden with shards of noise extracted from the ether — perhaps of the mind and memory, too.
This track has a huge weight to it; an emotional heaviness. But we never totally fear we will be pulled completely under and get taken away by the waves. We’re floating, we drift, but by the time stars shimmer midway through, the track shape-shifts once more: we feel the walls begin to push back — we can see sky again. We can breathe again.
On this positive note, ‘Hopeless and Chimerical’ appears to end by showing beauty winning out; suggesting perhaps that not everything will remain as hopeless as things first appeared.
That being in the outdoors, our freedom, to touch, feel and breathe deep — some of the very key things we all hold dear to us (which are the very things currently held at an arms length to us) will eventually return to us.
A powerful EP in many ways, with nature and solitude in its soul. This is a release that will be listened to again long after lockdown is over. I can’t wait to be able to do so while walking free through woods, up hills and beneath a big sky.
Earlier in the year, James released ‘Transit + Transition’ with Anthéne on Mailbox. I highly recommend this release to anyone fond of ambient, drone and experimental music. It’s a perfect album for contemplation and seeking calm within chaos. An album to celebrate the transitory nature of life.