A record that contemplates lost love, our place in the universe and, as the Welsh would say, expresses a powerful sense of hiraeth.
Hailing from Tenby in Wales, Desert Life comprise two multi-instrumentalists Chris Swales and Tom Jordan who between them play guitar, bass, percussion, xylophone, trumpet, organ and E-bow on this album. They’re aided and abetted by a number of friends including Jason Downes who plays the drums on most of the songs, as well as George and Daisy Whitfield who contribute accordion and cello respectively.
The album opens with ‘Future Dead’. It sets the tone for almost all the songs, as Swales begins to sing, ‘In despair in my room, Can you feel my plight’. The accordion and acoustic guitar riff give this track an ‘Automatic For The People’ era REM feel. It’s one of the many tales of love gone wrong on this record. ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ features the pedal steel wizardry of Jon Graboff, who’s played on records by Laura Cantrell, Iris Dement and Willie Nelson to name just a few. The quality of Graboff’s contribution shines through. It’s another song of lost love. ‘Sphere’, with its evocative E-bow, is a lament to nighttime apprehensions, ‘You tell yourself it’s just a dream but the panic invades your sphere’.
The record is divided into two parts by the haunting instrumental ‘Hiraeth’, on which Chris Swales plays everything. Hiraeth is a Welsh word for which there’s no direct English translation. It’s used to convey a deep sense of longing and yearning for the past, or a sense of homesickness tinged with grief or sorrow over the lost or departed. It’s the thread which runs through this whole album. ‘Caught On The Wind’ reflects a relationship between a man and a women which falls apart as they get to know each other better, with the man unable to let go of the past. The song sounds like the main protagonist is feeling the pain of hiraeth, and he’s ‘broken to the core’, as he contemplates his former lover.
‘No Colours’ is underlain by beautiful mournful trumpet from Jordan which fits the lyrics perfectly, ‘When you left and went way, You drained my colours, Left me here in black and white’. ‘Never The Same’ opens with the sound of a storm and what could be the ocean crashing against the coast. A mariachi-sounding trumpet plays in the background as Swales repeats the song’s title. It’s another song filled with remorse. The album concludes with ‘That Book’, an acoustic strummer, which again has interludes of Jordan’s wonderfully, sorrowful trumpet playing. Swales concludes the record by singing, ‘That book will take you far’; hopefully Desert Life’s debut album will do the same thing for them.
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