I have spent the majority of my working life in higher education. For the best part of 35 years I have grappled – and have been a guiding companion in helping others to grapple – with the ways in which it may be possible to make sense of the bewildering diversity of artistic cruelty human beings seem capable of effortlessly inflicting on each other.
One approach is to consider the sheer scale of the numbers involved. Over the course of the last century alone, well over one hundred million people died as a direct of violence. WWI – circa 9 million (military), 7 million (civilian); WWII – circa 48 million; Stalin’s programme of collectivisation – circa 14 million; the Korean War – circa 5 million; the killing fields of Cambodia – circa 3 million. And on. And on. And relentlessly on, even in our new century. Nor do these figures include individual and social acts of brutality and savagery.
Unfortunately the shocking truth these numbers reveal highlights the key weakness of taking this approach. The numbers quickly become incomprehensible. Overwhelming. Numbing. Too much to take in. There is just no way of getting a meaningful handle on the sheer depths of the agony and anguish the numbers represent; they defy explanation and too easily the suffering of those who went through it becomes distant and depersonalised.
The other approach is precisely that taken by this truly outstanding third studio album Seed from Freedom to Glide and marks the concluding chapter of a trilogy which started with Rain in 2013 and continued with 2016’s Fall. Andy Nixon and Pete Riley have created a musical experience which is simply breathtaking in the way it opens the doors to remarkable levels of penetrating insight, which in turn pave the way for genuinely gut-wrenching moments of emotional empathy.
Never before have I reached for a pause button so frequently as when listening to this album. There is a gentle but disturbing sensitivity which underlies the lyrical ingenuity of this release that hits home again and again with heart-breaking poignancy and force. If you want to talk about war, if you want to come one step closer to understanding the unspeakable, unbearable horror of what people went through on the battlefields, if you want to remember them, then this is precisely how you do it.
A snippet of a song jumps out and catches your ear: the imagery, the allusions, the delicate beauty of the song’s story physically jolts you to a halt. As the resonances begin to ripple out from the point of impact, you find yourself sitting there on the verge of tears as the full force of the emotional realisation well and truly sinks in of the awful, senseless state of resignation and despair these soldiers – these sons, brothers, husbands, lovers, friends – felt as the sun rises and falls on yet another sodden, deafening day of fighting in a foreign land.
To pick out individual tracks would be a horrible injustice to the tight and organic conceptual as well as musical vision that flawlessly threads its way from opening chapter to aching conclusion. Yet I would point your attention to four particular episodes which mesmerise with a clarity and a focused purity the immense foresight and imagination which underpins this release.
The Right Within The Wrong is steeped in the most tragic sense of unravelling self-certainty, the unfettered questioning of everything you hold dear as you sink into the morass of moral ambiguity from the everyday sights and sounds all around you. The plaintive plea and desperate holding on to certainty repeatedly asserts: “I’m not broken”, but is tested in the heat of battle “with every ounce of steel / That finds a fate to seal / Another crack appears”.
The enthralling and elegant acoustic of The Only Way? tells the story of an ‘enemy’ doctor crossing the lines to bring an ‘enemy’ soldier back to his comrades. The unabashed humanity is “A ray of light passing / Through the black of war” and forces the recognition of what we have in common: “You, like me, will bleed when you are torn and it’s / Clear that we would both prefer to talk than kill so / Much more to lose than they could ever hope to gain / It’s not the only way.”
Infrequent moments of humanity feed fleeting seeds of hope. Yet even here, the lament of Broken Road is loud and clear: “Broken road carry me home / To the life could have made / On the path we should’ve laid / Broken Road lead me away / From where my brothers lie / Where truth and reason died.”
Dear May is staggering in the bewitching simplicity of the final message it conveys from “this distant broken land”. “You’ll hold our memory close as we fade from view / This war must never claim me as it’s hero / I belong to you.”
Seed is magnificent. It is devastating in the range of its emotional sweep, humbling in the profundity of the insights it enables and majestic in the way it flawlessly presents a holistic musical experience. This is, without doubt, a contender for album of the decade and should be mandatory listening for anyone who is grappling to understand what it is human beings are capable of doing to each other. ~ ROB FISHER