Time seems to move both very quickly and very slowly under lockdown. In fact it’s done that for the last few years – maybe that’s just parenthood. Certainly the last two years feel like they’ve contained too much, both in my personal life and in the world at large.
This was the record I chose to play (part of) at our first virtual meeting under lockdown circumstances some 8 weeks ago – zooming each other, sharing audio, sharing screens, typing comments rather than talking as we listened, no curry, sitting in our own livingrooms/bedrooms/kitchens rather than sharing air with each other. It seemed appropriate for two reasons: firstly, it was the record I’d played most from 2020 so far and as such I was eager to play it to friends and see what they thought. Because that’s what record club is for.
And secondly, in interviews Bejar described it as having been recorded almost under lockdown conditions – singing songs quietly into his laptop in his kitchen after his wife and daughter had gone to bed, sending the files through the ether to his collaborators for them to do similar with drum machines, synthesisers, electric guitars. It struck me that if music is to be made under lockdown by anyone not cohabiting then it must be made like this; via Skype, or Zoom, or Teams, or FaceTime, FTPing sound files, discussing strategies and approaches and influences and intentions via email or IM or even phonecalls. It seemed like a positive example of what can be achieved despite isolation.
Because Have We Met is fabulous, as strong a set of songs as Bejar has done, and in an aesthetic that suits his latterday writing and singing perfectly – slightly motorik, electronic, somehow out of time (redolent of the 80s but not slavish to them), related to but evolved from Kaputt (the opening line steals a reference directly from that album, as only Bejar could) and Poison Season, taking the best aesthetic cues from Ken and expanding them (and with better songs).
Before everything went crazy I listened to this (almost) obsessively; it soundtracked my walk to work day after day. And then…
Emma was talking about coronavirus since before Christmas I think, hooked on reports since word first emerged of deaths in China. She’s a repeat offender when it comes to early-adopting, but this time it was with a pandemic rather than foofy boots or a Swedish rucksack. She knew it was coming and she knew it would change the world. She still says, occasionally, that she worries this could be the virus that actually, finally, does for humanity. For the sake of my children I hope that’s not the case. For the sake of human culture I hope it’s not the case, too, because I would hate for this record (and so many others) to be so meaningless in the face of the apocalypse.
But I’m being dramatic (I’ve had a cider): we’ll survive this pandemic, and adjust some of our behaviours, and we will carry on, and we will make music and listen to it.
I should write about the songs, but that feels trite. I enjoy them. There’s an instrumental towards the end that feels like peak Berlin Bowie and Eno. One is called “Cue Synthesisers” and it does that “Dance to the Music” trick of mentioning an instrument before it joins the mix. Overall it is very smooth, almost soporific, but every so often an electric guitar solo rips through it like… a virus through a populace… and upends everything. The lyrics are Bejar’s usual concoction of meaningless placeholders, repetition, and nonsense that somehow attain a level of pseudo-profundity through their delivery and context. I love what he does. Very Roland Barthes. All aesthetic, for the listener to project onto.
Tonight is only the second time I’ve listened to this record since lockdown, despite having been listening to it twice a day for a while before the world changed. There’s not a lot of opportunity for music in my current circumstances. I hope there is in yours.
Steve Listened: It is in my life, but only a little. Loved the album Nick, and thanks for the write-up. I do hope, as you do, that this is not the end. As the world collapses though this album comes close to a soundtrack to those times, if we are in those times, which I hope we are not….