Days of our lives
This thought crossed my mind just before I started to write this. About breakups, and the phases we go through when we’re subjected to them. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Isn’t this similar to how we deal with the pandemic? I remember how I didn’t want to think this was going to be serious. A lot of people actually never left that stage and are still in stubborn denial in spite of five and a half million people not surviving it. We have phases of anger, mostly when we understand the things that are lost – social life, job security, vacations…
The bargaining is a new and constant factor, mostly with ourselves and our loved ones when we’re trying to manage a life that never was designed to be spent together for months and months, at least not around the clock in the same apartment, and when we’re deliberating what might be safe and what might not be, restaurant or not, the concert, the movie, the party… Depression is everywhere, even if we don’t see it, everyone putting on their happy faces once they are forced to mingle with others, the unexpected awkwardness of it sending them even deeper into depression. Acceptance comes whenever we make an attempt to rationalize things, when we deliberate the situation with our friends, debating the latest figures and wondering how that shithead tennis player can think that he can get away with all the cheating and lying. That’s when the anger sets in again, and the whole cycle starts over.
Whether it’s after a breakup or during this pandemic – life isn’t what it used to be and we’re trying to cope with this inevitable fact. We all do, Jurriaan Terpstra a.k.a. nthng included. “Unfinished” is his way of turning the things that go through our minds and touch our hearts and mess with our souls into music.
Not that the album is somehow based on the concept of phases of grief. Not at all – the 16 mostly Ambient tracks represent a collection of sketches, loosely connected by the fact that they were created during lockdown. Which makes a lot of sense as we’re all only able to understand how we behave when we look back at what we did and what we felt. These sixteen sketches don’t rationalize, conceptualize or explain, they are moments fixed in music, based on whatever might have been felt at that particular moment in this strangely unhinged world.
But of course we get a certain bandwidth of emotions, and yes, they would fit that scholarly scale. The album goes from hopeful to mournful, from immediate to nebulous, from inner space to outer space, escapes and confronts, lays still and floats off – just like our current lives that can have a half dozen states of being within a single day. You wake up hopeful, go to bed disillusioned, and in between you are angry, happy, sad, morose and apathetic in various combinations.
After listening to it the first time I was wondering why it was called “Unfinished” – the whole experience doesn’t feel as if it needed some sort of completion. The album is what it is, just like our times and days and lives are what they are in our times. On the other hand – we’re still in the middle of the muddle and the story is anything but finished. What the opening track with the same name does convey is a deep yearning for some sort of completion, maybe for a destiny, for an end of something hurtful – for a moment the mind travels to a scene in “The Revenant”, the one in the church ruins, and the wonderful music that accompanies it.
A lot of what we experience on this album is deeply scenic, sometimes in a way that suggests a certain degree of randomness – as if any track could have been slightly different if it had been conceived at on a different day, at a different hour. Like in “Son” when a monologue about dice games and betting is mumbled over sparse instrumentation. Words partly indiscernible, the topic is not necessarily relevant – it would have been a different one at a different moment. Or when things get grave and dark, as if something threatening is approaching, dark drones and industrial sounds that tend to slide off into slight detune letting us fear of what may come next. “Subnautica” is anything but a fun dive.
And yet we arrive in “Atlantis”, a place that is anything but dark and hopeless, maybe a little sad, detached, it’s a world that isn’t ours, you picture yourself in one of those hovering cruisers in “Blade Runner”, feeling empty and drained in a world that is too crowded, too cold and too imposing. Drones and horns in the mist are pulsating and calling, the “Wrath Of The Demon” lurks and we tumble and sway, it’s a dark day, a dark night, the dreams are heavy and rest is not in sight. The first five tracks lead us from beauty and yearning to dark and menacing dreams.
Some of them seem to tap into the uncertainty and ambiguity of what we are experiencing, synth waves and drones signifying a look at what is happening, the constant attempt of making sense of it all, with unnerving distorted sounds cutting into the process – “Sudden Life”. Again, thoughts and confessions, reflections, words for someone that isn’t there, that keeps being away, keeps fading. “I used to make up long speeches to you after you left” she says, “I used to talk to you all the time even though I was alone.” There is a “two of us” that exists in the mind, but we realize that if that’s all there is, if there is no reality to support it, things fade. “Everything stopped. You just disappeared” she concludes and the title of the song – “Disappeared But Not Forgotten” – sounds more like an increasingly distant memory than a loving recollection.
No, “Unfinished” is not an antidote to the bleak realities of a world in pandemic mode – it’s more like a survey or an inventory of the states of our minds. Even “Energy Reloading” doesn’t feel like a recharge on the weekend but rather a technical process, it’s not us reloading after yet another draining week, it’s some device charging, and it’s fancy fast loading technology. The full reload is leaving you exhausted at the same time.
If this reads as if it was maybe the last album you will want to hear in these times – don’t worry. It’s okay. In a way, you feel understood when you listen to it. It doesn’t tell you some unrealistic crap like “this is over next month” or “this summer we’ll have a great vacation”. No, a track like “Our Time” is not promising anything, it’s friendly yet distant, it just sits there and doesn’t attempt to do anything.
There’s the dreaminess of “Deya Kingdom”, some place far away from everything we don’t like about the here and now. There’s the gratefulness of not being alone, of being with someone to love, someone that “carries me through days of apathy”, the realization that “she saved my life in a manner of speaking when she gave me back the power to believe.” To let this much deepness be accompanied by a human beatbox is an astonishing choice – to make it work so well is a real achievement.
So all is not lost here, and we understand that being together and relying on each other is what saves us in times like these. It leads us to the “Soft Sea”, like a realization that life itself is what should be cherished. Yes, we are all going to die some day. So let’s find some joy in life. Even if for only a moment. The next moment of uncertainty, disappointment or disorientation will be just around the corner anyway.
By the time the “Ending Theme” is closing things with a slow ballad played on that piano that hadn’t been touched for at least a dozen years we have gone through all kinds of emotions, gone through all the phases. In a way things are really unfinished as a new day will let the whole spiral start again like Groundhog Day.
But then there’s one more thing. The little 7″ that comes with the vinyl edition. Is it an epilogue? A sidenote? An update? Probably just two more sketches, ethereal and hesitantly hopeful on one side, imaginative and playful on the other. Yes, there will be hundreds of more sketches for any given day of our time. These are the days of our lives. No more, no less. And thankfully very much unfinished.
Release for review:
NTHNG – UNFINISHED – LOBSTER SLEEP SEQUENCE – LSS 004