The other day while smoking a cigarette before work and also feeling exceptionally crappy for a number of reasons, I was skipping through different songs on a rather lengthy Spotify playlist that I’ve been randomly building over the course of the past eight months or so. I was looking for something uplifting, something fierce and catchy, an anthem to march into work to as a wrestler does coming into the ring. But every time I pressed my thumb against the forward button, it seemed things just got more melancholy until, by some kind of fetid irony it was a Cure song, which lifted my heavy heart and allowed me to go on. Later that day, after I had bucked up a little, I thought about why I had so many sad songs on this playlist. It was because they actually made me happy most of the time with their bare chords and disheartening lyrics portraying images I could relate to.
But like anything that seems easy enough a sad song is pretty easy to screw up. It requires a steady hand to sift through the rubble of strong emotions to find the words that really mean something, the ones that are worth saving. On Apart From Darkness his solo debut as Burdened Hand, multi-instrumentalist Andy Holmes shows how it’s done, excavating his most profound and fragile feelings from a period of ruin. After a move from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he served as lead guitarist for The Love Language, to Philadelphia and the ending of his relationship with his long term girlfriend, Holmes began to write these songs between midnight and six a.m., often with a bottle of Ezra Brooks for inspiration and companionship.
Holmes wastes no time in getting to the point, “letting go of all the waste inside /oh, tonight, these demons are just my type,” he moans on the hauntingly melodic “Four of Swords.” And then, as though he had not plunged the knife deep enough into his own chest, he pushes it further confessing, “i failed as a lover / i wasn't worth a shit / i lost my head in all of this.” On “No Pain,” Holmes finds temporary relief in the old familiars “but you can sleep this off / or take a walk to the bar / I've been here all day.”
And though darkness and heartache permeate every song on Apart From Darkness, Holmes doesn’t forget about the music itself. “Alice” is a richly spooky piece of jangle pop and “Flew South,” is reminiscent of the angelic multi-tracked vocal harmonies of Elliot Smith. Even the dark percussion of “Grace” is marbled with beauty as is the My Bloody Valentine-d instrumental “You at the Door.”
Apart from Darkness is an intricately harrowing experiment in the processing of pain. It is at times as uplifting as it is unsettling. Though it cannot prevent pain from occurring to you, it can, like the bottle of Ezra Brooks that helped make it, can cull it for a bit, reminding you that you are not alone.
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