Yesterday, my friend told me the much-loved East 17 Christmas hit ‘Stay Another Day’ is about suicide. As it turns out, one of the group, Tony Mortimer, wrote the track as a tribute to his brother who took his own life. Listening to ‘Stay Another Day’ with this knowledge in mind, it becomes much more than a cheesy Christmas song, taking on a significance I’d never realised was there. ‘Stay Another Day’ was always a great tune, but the added context makes it so much better.
The point is, writing about death is hard, but when it’s done well, it really pays off. Take the new track by A Grave With No Name (the alias of London musician Alexander Shields), for instance. Using his own memories of a loved one’s death, he channels his grief into ghostly new track ‘When I Pass Through Here’.
Written after the death of his grandmother, with whom he shared a house for much of his childhood, Shields documents the harrowing feeling of revisiting an old home left empty in the wake of death. Shields’ voice shivers and echoes over a thrum of strings, his lyrics half suffocated by the tangled arrangement that hums with a stubborn unease. There are shades of Mount Eerie and Sparklehorse to be heard in the track’s quiet sadness, Shields’ haunting track reminiscent of the bulk of Mount Eerie’s morbid masterpiece A Crow Looked At Me.
As his moniker would suggest, A Grave With No Name is no stranger to writing about death, though it’s a subject that doesn’t get lighter with time. On ‘When I Pass Through Here’, Shields avoids cliched representations of death, at times keeping his lyrics obscured from the listener, hidden behind fuzzy guitar, denying us full access to the breadth of his emotion. The guitars serve as a veil through which Shields can both reveal and obscure himself, his grief at times offered to the listener, at times kept just for himself. But even when his words are swallowed, mere shadows and echoes, Shields’ tangible emotion is striking throughout.
‘When I Pass Through Here’ is taken from the album Passover released January 19th via Forged Artifacts.