‘Those beautiful sad quiet moments’ – ‘Memorial’, album review
Listening to folk-pop duo Memorial’s self-titled debut album is like peering into a diorama. The tiny poignant scenes crafted in each track are both defenselessly intimate, and paradoxically expansive, offering a pin-prick of light at the end of the tunnel. This movement through vulnerability to emotional break-though is perhaps unsurprising for an album its creators call ‘joint therapy’. In their debut album, which will be released on April 29th, Memorial let us climb into their introspective acoustic landscape, and take refuge for a little while.
After listening to the album’s intimate vocals, you might be surprised to learn that the two halves of Memorial live over 250 miles away from each other. ‘We originally met at university in Brighton and have remained friends ever since’, the duo explain. It wasn’t until a mutual friend suggested they gave it a go that ‘we got a rehearsal room, and the rest just fell into place over time’.
While Jack Watts moved to Manchester and Ollie Spalding remained in Brighton, ‘we just kept writing as often as we could, sending little voice notes over the internet to each other and getting excited for the next potential meeting’.
The distance isn’t always an obstacle, however; ‘it’s a great way to maintain excitement about an idea and give each other space to create’. Ollie explains that ‘time and space is imperative to creation’, and that ‘our forced distance was a huge part of that’.
The two claim to have found a ‘cathartic release’ in those first rehearsal room sessions, and nowhere on the album is that more crystalline clear than in ‘Moth to a Flame’, which has already been released. Swelling trumpets and carefully finger-picked acoustic guitar linger in the pain of missing someone. While Memorial tell me Sufjan Stevens is among their contemporary influences, you’d only need to listen to one haunting bar to know that.
Memorial’s new tracks evidence their love of ‘the song writing of the 60s and 70s’. Referencing artists like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Gene Clarke, the pair extol the era’s lyricism, which is ‘so attentive and thought-out, with a romance that you just can’t find easily in the modern world’.
You don’t have to listen for long to find that nostalgic lyricism. ‘Everything I’ve ever owned doesn’t feel like mine, born in the wrong place and the wrong time’ opens ‘Broken Record’. Ollie explains ‘the whole song is about feeling like you’re in a self-destructive loop’, with this line referring to the dissociative numbness of ‘acknowledging your age and romanticising the idea of belonging somewhere else’.
While Memorial’s thoughtful lyricism might be inspired by artists of yester-year, the album’s production firmly places it in the modern day. Self-titled track ‘Memorial’ is vocal-less, and instead contributes a lush soundscape overflowing with bird call and music-box chimes. It’s escapist quality feeds into the following track ‘Old Oak’, which whisks us into to the mossy setting of the cover art through understated hand drumming and the creaking of ancient trees.
What’s consistently central on ‘Memorial’ is undoubtably its reflective, diary-like quality. ‘We made a point very early on of being extremely open with each other, no barriers and forced masculine silence’ the two explain. ‘Men should talk about these things with each other’.
The album traverses emotional peaks and troughs; the muffled acoustics of ‘Amy’, which embodies the quiet pain of heartbreak, typifies the ‘beautiful sad quiet moments’ that make up ‘Memorial’. By the time listeners reach ‘Love is a Kind of Sadness’, such feelings crescendo into crashing drums and electric guitar.
The duo’s ‘sincere hope’ that ‘this record finds people that need to feel like they aren’t alone’ is palpable throughout their debut. Like a cave in a storm, ‘Memorial’ is a stopping place purpose-built for the reflection and empathy you might need before making it out of the forest.
Words by Kate Bowie