Not feeling any sadness for Simon MacHale’s debut album, Let Down Those Old Defences

12 May

Simon MacHaleComplexity is sexy. Nothing is as pleasurable as the feeling when you’ve just discovered or solved something that you’ve been thinking about for some time. This applies in the most vague ways, whether you’ve “figured out” one of your co-workers, or solved a crime, you always get that smug sense of satisfaction. I hope it isn’t too forward to say, but I find Irish songwriter Simon MacHale very complex. I’m usually pretty good at shoehorning a band’s sound into one made-up-but-understandable genre, but this time I’m truly stumped. It is too large to fit into any genre or genre-hybrid. In MacHale’s debut album, Let Down Those Old Defences, there are dashes of anti-folk and processed pop with drum machines and vocal performances that will surprise you. The lyricism is tangible, not empty and full of wispy ideas and generalizations. The best summary of the artistry demonstrated on Let Down Those Old Defences is the audiovisual experience of “If I Cannot Have You.”

“A modern take on the classic melancholy of a fantasist: sad pleasure and dolorous joy,” MacHale says of the track. Almost every time he sang the word “sadness,” it was new, both in emotional intensity and sonic ingenuity, making it one of the most interesting vocal progressions I have ever heard. The entire video was made from still images of two stuffed mice in a dollhouse, which created the perfect context for the song. The relationship is well executed, with thorough depth of the depravity of the protagonist. The painting, specifically, is a very powerful symbol. He vandalizes it as part of the destructive coping mechanism that he and the narrator share, but he doesn’t physically destroy it. Instead he paints over it, streaking black all over, but maintaining the original portrait outline. If the obsessive behavior wasn’t already evident from the lyrics, now it was front and center.

As perfectly as the video comes together, it may be surprising to know that MacHale initially was inclined to reject this concept, opting for a more singular storyline. He stressed the importance of the solitude depicted in the lyrics, but the video director, Bob Gallagher, had other ideas. Given the pre-arrangement of the dollhouse that they were using as the set, he was able to craft a story that allow the video and the song to work together successfully. “For instance the baby’s room was already totally decorated,” explained Gallagher, “so I thought placing the adults there with a notably absent baby could be powerful and dramatic.” The minor chord progressions also give the song an eerie feel, creating an expectation that something bad is going to happen, despite the happy first few scenes. After all, the first line is “I’m feeling so much sadness for you,” though it’s difficult to predict the ensuing mania.

Simon MacHales’s debut album, Let Down Those Old Defences, is out now. For more information on MacHale, visit his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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