It’s been a long five years since Left With Pictures' last release, 2011’s In Time. That record had an unusual release whereby each of the 12 songs were dished out monthly and premiered on Gideon Coe’s BBC 6Music show. This year sees the band returning to a more traditional approach, a very honest one that firmly wears its heart on its sleeve.
As you might suspect given the title, this record deals primarily with mortality, endings, and new beginnings. Lead single ‘Terra Firma's stark, hymnal folk is sung from the perspective of a dying person's lover. It’s a determined and unwavering picture of sorrow. The resolutely heartfelt vocals promise “One day I’ll find you at the water's edge”; it's genuinely touching, but it escapes saccharine idealism by also confessing grim secret realities, ‘friends that rallied round at first/left thinking that they'd seen the worst.” Musically, it is minimalism used most effectively - a barely-there synth line and piano - leaving the harmonising vocals to speak volumes. It is only towards the end that it opens up and becomes fuller offering a well-needed release.
The candid nature of the record is both thematically and musically reminiscent of The Antlers' shattering Hospice. Amongst the pressing bass line and reaching chorus the protagonist confesses, “I make a bloody mess of all I do these days. And desperately claims, “I don’t know what my body will do to me today/I’m scared to go to sleep tonight I might not wake.” But unlike The Antlers' bleak offering, Left With Pictures dress these sad revelations with musical motifs that contain within them glimmers of hope - however small they may be sometimes.
Musically they work with a wide palette. Although they are self-described purveyors of orchestral pop, you could argue that tag is a little limiting. All classically trained musicians it’s no wonder there is liberal use of strings, but they also incorporate folk guitars and subtle electronica that makes for a rich and highly textured recording. ‘Who’s There’s distorted strings and ‘Multiplexes’s tugging, layered synths make for a broad listening experience.
This extensive musical style extends to the record's lyrics and atmospherics. In spite of the album’s sometimes dark focus, it escapes oppressive melancholia. ‘Stage Fright’ is a gorgeously glimmering tune of strings, piano and striking tenderness and ‘The Start’ flips sadder preoccupations for tentative optimism. The chorus joyfully wonders, “Might this be the start of everything?”
Afterlife concludes with ‘The Night Watch'. Its piano lead core is flanked by electric guitar and builds in wavering electronics like a modern day church hymn. It’s words spoken to a loved one near the end, but as the lyrics offer, “All that love you will be here”, they make it an oddly comforting and disarming way to end the record.
Left With Pictures have returned with a collection of songs that confirm they are a band worthy of the ears of many. It's often a sad record, but it's also a hopeful and beautiful one, full of carefully considered detail and infinitely sensitive observations.
7Bekki Bemrose 's Score