Mighty Village Records - [Release date: 01.10.21]
What’s a woman to do when the life that you’ve led for over twenty years reveals itself over time to be a stifling, coercive relationship that’s dominated your life and musical career?
The answer for Thea Gilmore, one of the finest singer/songwriters this country has produced, is to bail out, change your name and then write about it all in an attempt to exorcise your demons and move on.
So, she’s changed her performing name to Afterlight, written it all down and delivered an album of staggering intensity.
For this is a raw and unbridled dive into someone’s very soul – something she obviously felt the need to do and something for which we should all be grateful.
The twelve tracks here are bookended by two spoken pieces; ‘Of All The Violence I Have Known’ and ‘Last’.
The former is a powerful insight into a coercive relationship and the fear that lurks beneath what appears, outwardly anyway, benign – described with lines that pull you up sharp – “the longest mark by far is the slow assassination of the years…” Thea uses a good number of people to deliver the words, presumably to show that this can happen to anyone.
The latter is a piece spoken by Thea alone – less a poem, more a reclaiming of self against a backdrop of a life lived on somebody else’s terms. Powerful stuff.
The musical journey in between ranges from the almost catchy ‘Friendly Little Heart Attack’ – its cheery percussive acoustic riff a decoy for the acerbic lyrics within – to the darker recesses of ‘Stain’, ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ and the beautiful ballad ‘The Ghost Of Love’.
‘Parallax’ is acoustic-led with excellent percussion and details how different viewpoints don’t align (very clever) and one of the many highlights – along with ‘Cut And Run’ whose piano-led balladry includes lines such as “I’m broken again. And the sun’s coming in. Where the night is lifting up her dress…”
Throughout, the songwriting is peerless, the lyrics frequently disturbing and the musicianship exemplary – just like any other Thea Gilmore album – but this time there’s a personal perspective and a depth of emotion that has the capacity to stop you in your tracks.
Not an easy listen, but an album of startling intensity, beautifully recorded and, hopefully, a go-to listen for anyone who feels they can empathise with her.
Albums like this come around far too infrequently – we should all take the opportunity to listen when they do. *****
Review by Alan Jones
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