Title: Something For The Weakened
Label: Song, By Toad
Release Date: July 16th
‘Catharsis’ is an ancient Greek work meaning ‘cleansing’ and was originally used in relation to the fictional characters of the day. The philosopher Aristotle was the first to take the term and apply it directly to the human condition and our emotions; although still in relation to dramatic art. In more recent times this idea of the ‘purging of the soul’ has been directly used as a form of pyschoanalysis in which a person simply experiences the deep emotions associated with repressed feelings from past incidents. Through this ‘experiencing’, the subject hopes to find a way to deal with, and move on from, the events which still have a hold on them. As the idea of catharsis is based simply on the confrontation and expulsion of our emotions, the physical release created by it can, and will, come in many different forms. Most of us will imagine it as a monumental outpouring of grief (a standing-on-top-of-a-mountain-and-screaming-from-the-top-of-your-lungs kind of thing), which is certainly true to some extent, however it is not the only result; the ‘purging‘ can just as well be a small, quiet gesture or simply a silent reflection.
Over the course of two full-length albums, and the odd EP and single, Meursault have often revealed glimpses of a darkness hidden beneath the surface. For every plaintive lilt there is a sudden outbreak of raw, desperate emotion. In the past this sombreness has been somewhat ambiguous; small fragments of an existence shrouded under layers of raw and unpolished production, like a portrait in a blurred photograph. On their third LP – the wonderfully-titled ‘Something For The Weakened‘ – it’s clear that things are a little bit different this time around. Much of the vagueness has gone; replaced in-part by a clean and expansive sound. In no way does this mean that they have ‘dumbed-down’; if anything, the transparency of the music leaves the true sentiment behind each of the songs feeling even more opaque than before.
Opening track ‘Thumb’ is a delicate and measured call to arms; “We will not be weakened anymore…“, repeated for three minutes until it becomes a sentiment almost impossible to disbelieve. New single ‘Flittin’ follows and shines like a beacon for this new-found sense of time and space that the band have created. A simple acoustic strum, warmly built upon with drums and piano, helps create the straight-up indie-rock sound you always knew they were capable of. In lesser hands this shift in tone could quite easily falter, but here it simply elevates the entire experience; especially when set against the wry and world-weary lyrics of Neil Pennycook.
Although it didn’t seem abundantly obvious at the time, it’s clear now that the waves of electronica found on their earlier work created an all-encompassing, and often claustrophobic, sound. Akin to stepping out of your cold, dark house into the far-reaching countryside, the dynamic shift they present on ‘…Weakened‘ has led to wide-open spaces now existing between the musical flourishes, offering an untroubled vista for the lyrics to not only become prevalent but to firmly take hold. Even the most uncomplicated lines such as “It’s nice to see you smile” seem to hang in the air, suspended simply by the weight of the sentiment within them. Across the record discreet lyrical gems jump out from every corner; “I’ve got soul, but soul alone does not a dancer make. And thirst itself will not buy me a drink,” Pennycook croons on Thumb, while Settling rises and falls upon the oft-repeated “You’re all waiting on a joke, but all I have are punchlines. So ha-fucking-ha.”
If there is one key element in the records success it’s the perfect sense of balance that the band have found. Hole and Mamie are wonderfully sorrowful and introspective tracks; but the record is in no way completely downbeat. Acting as opposing forces, Dull Spark is a rousing, chest-puffed-out anthem that takes a look at the shit that life throws up, and then spits in the face of it. (“For every time you pull away from me, there will be a time you hold me close. For every dirge that I have ever heard there was a simple song of hope.“) Elsewhere the records closing track, Untitled, is a sweet and reflective ode to those big decisions that require us to take a giant leap of faith into the unknown: “I was dying to see a new sun, and the old moon, and all the beauty that entails. So I spilled out of my shell a little too soon; I was wrong but I was a happy and I could die with a smile.” Then there is the post-rock-ish swell of Dearly Distracted, which offers another change of pace enitrely. Its eight-minutes of slow-building, majesterial beauty just as likely to provoke a joyous grin as it bursts into life, as it is to draw a tear to the eye during its more ruminative moments.
And it’s within these finely-balanced contrasts where the true success of Something For The Weakened lies. Such as our lives tip-toe along finely-strung wires, and we experience joy and sorrow, loss and gain, light and dark; so too this record switches between our afflictions and contentments, ever-changing like a kaladeioscope of emotions, until there is nothing left to do but to let go and simply accept whichever twist or turn it throws our way next. Which, in essence, is what catharsis is. Facing up to our experiences and the decisions we’ve made and staring them straight in the eye. Not shying away from them but learning to live with, and in spite of, the obstacles they sometimes present.
Is that what Meursault set out to achieve on this album? Well I have no idea, you’ll have to ask them. What I do know is that I can sit down with this record and at some point during its forty-five minutes a purging of sorts takes place and I come out the other side feeling more hardened and more strengthened than I did before.
Something for the weakened it may well be; weak, it certainly isn’t.
Written by Tom Johnson