I’m one of those people who always need to be doing something; I thrive on throwing myself into projects and am at my most productive and creative the busier I am. This might sound like the type of lame platitude you might hear during the interview week on the Apprentice, but this is what I’m like.
During 2009 I was juggling a number of different projects: I was studying for a PhD and would spend my days huddled over books or rooting through dusty archives; I was teaching on a couple of first and second year History of Art modules; I spent time on a band/performance art group and recorded and performed my own music; I also founded and edited a local print magazine in Leeds called Art Fist.
In November 2009 I contracted swine flu, and for two weeks I was bed-bound. Though the illness itself was pretty bad, it wasn’t as bad as other non-pig-related illnesses I’d had over the years, but it was what came after it that I found hardest. Once the flu was out of my system, my body pretty much gave up. I had post-viral syndrome, and it kicked the hell out of me.
For six months, my body just didn’t want to work: I was constantly knackered- just getting out of bed in the morning was a monumental task, and pretty much everything that had given my life fulfilment went out of the window: I managed about 10,000 words of writing in those six months – now I usually do that in a week; I could no longer put Art Fist together, and its days as a print magazine came to an end; the music also had to go – the energy it took to write and perform just wasn’t there; I just about managed my teaching commitments, but found marking to be incredibly draining.
The overwhelming feeling of fatigue inevitably led to feelings of depression. I listened to a lot of post-rock during these months. I found solace in bands that wrote epic and vast experimental soundscapes with delayed guitars and downbeat drums. I got lost in bands like And So I Watch You From Afar, Aurora Bien, Cloud Archive, Escape the Day, and Leech - the melancholic tones of their compositions seemed to perfectly echo how I was feeling at that time: downbeat and introspective.
One day at the end of April I woke up and felt fine. There was no transition, it was as if a switch suddenly went off and I was back to my old self. I poured my efforts back into my PhD, and managed to get a final draft completed by the July. I never managed to get back into writing music, except to compose a song for my wedding. I relaunched Art Fist as a website earlier this year (artfist,org) and have made the decision to ply my trade as a writer.
Since then, I’ve not listened to much of this introspective type of music. Things are much more positive, and I haven’t felt inclined to revisit these bands until now.
Leech’s The Stolen View opens with the stunning ‘Silent State Optimizer’ a song that sounds like it could have been made by Air had they laid some huge prog-rock guitar riffs over some of Moon Safari’s sleepy numbers. This is an awesome instrumental, both subtle and powerful, that takes on a new meaning and resonance when not listened to in the depths of post-viral despair – I’m really glad of this because I was worried that the feelings I originally associated with the music would come flooding back. ‘The Man with the Hammer’ is filled with echoic guitars and down-tempo drums that are occasionally punctuated by glockenspiel rings. At about the half-way point, the song goes all prog with swooping guitar solos and clunky metal riffs. It’s a highly detailed and textured piece of music that brings to mind some of the indulgent metal riffs of Coheed and Cambria. ‘Inspiral’ uses beautiful layers of arpeggio guitar and sci-fi synths building to backward-masked guitars, pulsating feedback and chiming bells. By the end of the piece, the music becomes reminiscent of some of the more epic moments of Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream, with literally dozens of fuzz-laden guitars washing over the mix and creating a feeling of warmth and energy. ‘Totem and Tabu’, at over 20 minutes in length, is epic in every sense of the word. It is musically somewhere between Mastodon, Slint and Shellac: it is deliberate, fractured and moves through a number of phrases and themes. It’s an incredible piece of music that could at one point be described as face-melting metal, and at another as subtle and sublime.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel revisiting this CD, but I’m glad that I did. Definitely a keeper.