erasing clouds

At Swim Two Birds, Before You Left

review by dave heaton

The cover art says it all: a man sitting alone on a park bench. The shape of a woman comforts him, but she’s not there, she exists only in his mind. She’s gone.

The “Intro” to the album is the same essential scene. Wind is blowing in the background, as Roger Quigley, aka At Swim Two Birds, speak-sings with regret, “Before you left I told myself / this is a good thing”. But of course, now she’s gone, and it isn’t.

Past the intro are a series of songs with their own internal sense of calm, one that carries through to the listener. Quigley is the crooner under the spotlight, drowning his sorrows out loud, to us. “I Must Be Losing You” has him accompanied by a stark, repeating guitar part, the strings squeaking as the hand pulls away. Synthesized strings lightly augment the mood, while Quigley sings along with himself, trying to find a way to deal with the pain. “Let the drink drown me / and let the smoke choke me / and let life run rings around me.” Those rings are matched by the way the music and vocals circle and repeat, creating waves that move but stay in place. This album captures the thought-state of someone struck motionless by heartbreak, even though his brain is constantly working, mulling over what went wrong.

The first half of the album is especially beautiful and calming for music that’s so devastatingly sad. The second half gets heavier in mood and bleaker in spirit, even as it finds the narrator shaking off his imagination and finally dealing with the facts, with what he needs to realize in order to pull himself out of his fog. He pulls himself out while the music gets foggier, in a way, but no less impressive.


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