Dreamy melodic poetry for dark times.
For his 11th release Jeremy Squires delves deep into a world of intense sadness and loss. This prolific multi-instrumentalist has written a collection of songs from the depths of pandemic loneliness deepened by the death of his grandmother who raised him. ‘Unravel’ is aptly titled as he untangles a web of emotions that veer close to desperation but just pull back at the edge. Squires does not fit neatly into a genre, folk singer/songwriter falls short. Lyrically sparse as his arrangements are rich and dreamy he conveys mental turmoil that offer a sense of release and even relief.
As well as his own circumstances Squires draws on the landscape of his North Carolina home. Having lost both parents, his mother to opioid addiction, the recent passing of his grandmother who raised him hit was a huge blow. On top of that he is acutely aware of his bipolar disorder and PTSD and fears either may pass on to his son.
Unsurprisingly, anxiety is never far away. The first two lines of opener ‘My Last Song’ go straight to the point, “Tear myself apart/ Does it show?” The bass on which it was written and a firm drum line tightens that nervous tension. Yet counterbalancing such fears he creates a sound that hypnotises as it heals.
Definitely a highlight of the album for a sheer sense of catharsis is ‘Fade’ as Squires slows down and turns inward. With vocals reduced to a whisper he struggles with vivid, but painful, memories. “Another life/ Pictures of the past come back/ In black and white photographs/ Turned sepia”. The video adds the topographical dimension that connects so powerfully with this expansive sound and intense lyrics.
‘Only In My Dreams’ is a good example of the repeated theme of escape as inner emotion cascades out to the world beyond, “All come together with a flowing only in my dreams/ The moon glows upon the fallen leaves/ Dispersing light/I’m buried beneath”.
Another aspect of ‘Unravel’ is how Squires can switch from the very abstract to a specific moment, ‘Dream Walking’, the most direct link with his grandmother’s death has Squires pacing around her house where he grew up, “Magnolias and shadows fall/ Beside the house as light dissolves/ I wanna be there / Out of my head/ Call it poetic sentiment/ All of the ghosts I tried to forget”
Squires faces his own mental turmoil head-on in ‘Burst’ as he asks himself very bluntly, “Am I deranged?”. Tightening the tension is how he turns the song into a soliloquy in two completely distinct voices over an urgent, repetitive mesh of guitar and synthesiser that evoke his early love of grunge. Another influence is The Cure as ‘Diminish’ would testify. An arrangement that is just the right the side of falling completely apart turns out to be the perfect backdrop. A funereal bass and drum peer through thick layers of synthesiser to highlight how Squires finds beauty in unlikely places, both literally and metaphorically.
‘Borderline’ returns to that tipping point but in the end finds solace to finish the album. It is about leaving and sadness but concludes the record with a feeling of escape.
‘Unravel’ may well not do it for you first time round but persevere. Jeremy Squires is a poet whose words and meaning requires application. That and his mesmeric sound should prove rewarding in the end. Perhaps as Squires would wish, think of ‘Unravel’ as therapy.