words by tom johnson
I’m obsessed with the passing time, the truth that my own life, all life, has a start-point and an end-point, that one day we’re here and then we’re not, and in the space between we do a few things to pass the time, to make our time here, a little sweeter, and often a little darker, and nobody really talks about it. I’m fascinated that there are people I knew intimately and now don’t know at all, and that I can find intimacy with new people that I’d never previously known, who don’t know the name of the school I went to or my middle name, and that we carry the fall-out of these relationships with us regardless, for as long as we’re here, little strands that flap around us in the wind, mostly ignored but always attached. “I was born knowing one thing. I was one born,” Mat Cothran sang on the closing track of previous record ‘Posthumous Release’. A few years on and I still know little else.
Deep and muddled, Cothran has spent the best part of a decade trying to transcribe that one simple thought in to various musical movements, either via his Coma Cinema project or as Elvis Depressedly and his own self-titled work, and it still consumes every inch of his latest record, Loss Memory, the final album to released under the Coma Cinema name. “Mortally coiled around nothingness,” he sings on ‘Tether’, while ‘Thunder’ retreats further in to the depth of subliminal actions: “I am drawn to the mirror in a dull revulsion. I forgive you but I do not know why.”
For all the wider philosophising within the lyrics, this is markedly Cothran’s own story. Opening track ‘Eventually’ makes that abundantly clear: “And as my family dies from Cancer, I am teary-eyed and weak,” he sings with plaintive, crushing realism. “This dying day just ain’t worth saving, so I hide away in my poisoned brain just trying to sleep,” he goes on to say. Another recurring character is his Mother, and she fades in and out, both plainly and poetically: “Me and my Mom used to hide there, crying our prayers through a window,” he sings on ‘Window’, before shifting the focus entirely in the very next line. “A fig tree covered in water holds the moonlight like a prison.”
Through other eyes this could all get a little too much, but Cothran always leaves tiny cracks, allowing just enough light in, as well as offering a space that we, as listeners, can climb in to, finding ways of shaping our own burdens in to similar form, finding solace in someone else’s journey. Similarly, it’s important to note that Cothran’s songs never seem to come from a place of despair; sad and confused, sure, but never afraid to look death and its compatriots square in the eye. He might be losing, as we all are, but he sure as hell won’t be the one to blink first.
Musically, Memory Loss is as considered, detailed, and muddy as we’ve come to expect. There’s less vocal effects than we heard on the other incredible record he released this year, and that cracked and faded voice still veers between charmingly impressionable and palpably slouched. Finding space between the plodding guitars and occasional, eminently flourishes of tender keys, his voice is the niggling after thought to something you shouldn’t have said; the devil on your shoulder, broken down and beaten, no long toying with your perceptions of good and evil but just telling you to do whatever the hell you want.
When approaching new records we often look for some kind of key, a little notch in the hardness that allows us to get inside it. Loss Memory doesn’t need that. While there are ambiguous strands of though that belong to Cochran and his own psyche, the record shows more than enough of its cards to ruin the game, no longer interested in playing for the sake of it. “I’m through begging off an eternity of loss. I’ve been alone for so long,” he sings on the quietly haunting ‘Phillip’ – a dead-of-night motto that the whole record lives by. Coma Cinema is tired and defeated, by the world, by their place in it, and this is his record about that. Call a spade a spade if you like, it doesn’t really matter any way.
Listening to Loss Memory, when the dainty piano and the drum-machine of the title track kicks-in, the album’s second track, a weird concoction of bright instrumentation and downbeat lyricism (“how do i wake up? how do i get free? tethered to an anchor of loss memory”), a reoccurring image keeps playing in my mind, of Cothran, bleary-eyed and beaten down, sat at that piano in the some stale bar, during the day, playing his songs amid the dank air and faded wallpaper, the dust-lined windows, watching the customers come and go, on the outside looking in and not sure how he got there or where to go, mortally coiled around nothingness, the world spinning on regardless of anything at all.
Loss Memory is out now, via Bandcamp – buy it here