Written during a stay at his family home following the death of his grandmother, ‘Passover’ is the sixth album from songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Shields, otherwise known as A Grave With No Name. Like much of his previous output, it's equally as arresting and intriguing as it is sombre and sincere.
Given the circumstances surrounding its creation, this should come as little surprise. Unlike the albums which came before it, however, ‘Passover’ avoids a large ensemble of musicians, and opts instead for just two; drummer and childhood friend Daniel Paton and bassist Ben Reed. The result is a composition as intimate as the feelings that helped shape it, and as nuanced as the themes with which it wrestles.
Religion, mortality, family and afterlife are all themes explored across ‘Passover’s 45 minutes; familial ideas juxtaposed against imagery more natural, celestial even. It’s a juxtaposition aided through the addition of field recordings and tape manipulation, creating a dream-like haze that seems to build across the course of the record, at times warm and inviting, at others ominous and disconcerting.
Split down the middle by the minute-long melodic crackle of ‘Interlude’, ‘Passover’ is a record of two halves; the latter feeling considerably darker than the first. This feeling of darkness, of despondency, is something evident throughout, though it really begins to assert itself on ‘Blunt Knives’ before surreptitiously seeping in to the final half.
There are moments of occasional buoyancy on offer however. ‘Canary’, for instance, provides brief, instrumental respite with a steady progression of warm guitars. For the most part, though, ‘Passover’ is a sincere and introspective album that offers little in the way of optimism. What it does offer is an understated intelligence and a quiet catharsis, both which are intrinsic to record’s appeal.
Its appeal isn’t immediate, either. Like the darkness that pervades much of ‘Passover’, its appeal is insidious; taking several listens to really take hold. When it does, however, it’s a record that won’t let go. From the Elliot Smith-like ‘When I Pass Through Here’ to the sun-dappled nostalgia of ‘Supper’, each track feels like a vignette, a brief insight in to Shields’ background and thought processes. As such, it’s not an album made for background listening, it’s made for losing yourself in completely, and, in that, it succeeds perfectly.
Words: Dave Beech
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