Lazy Listen: At The Close Of Every Day – Darkness Travels Light; Searching For Silence

November 2, 2014
by Tjeerd van Erve

20141102-124457-45897539.jpgThe last couple of weeks I’ve been constantly listening to Darkness Travels Light, the latest record by At The Close of Every Day. I’ve been following this band ever since they celebrated their debut LP Zalig Zijn De Armen van Geest twelve years ago. Ever since 2008’s Troostprijs, however, there’s been nothing but silence. However, not silent enough for me to forget about them. Voice and drummer Minco Eggersman kept me occupied with several – again celebrated – movie scores, plus his own solo adventure by the name of ME. Twelve good years…all of them in search of silence. Now finally, At The Close of Every Day returns with a new, somewhat unexpected chapter this November; Darkness Travels Light. A resplendent comeback: after six years of true silence, the duo manage to capture silence in sound masterfully.

Not a sudden choice, but one of lengthy perseverance, earning what to skip and how to create silence. Because silence is not just simply defined by the lack of sound. Essential to this road well traveled to the quietus, is Minco Eggersman’s work on movie scores. Here he learned to further develop the ability to create an atmospheric soundscape, using only limited means. A good example is the score he made in 2010 for short film Ooit, a story about a mentally handicapped man who loses his mother, and has no idea how to deal with death. He does not even grasp the concept, or so it seems. Using a soft brush and light tones, Eggersman manages to capture the melancholy and sadness of this touching short tale, stripping down folk and country to its bare necessities. What remains is not so much music as the idea of music, not at any point pushing or demanding the listener’s full attention. Nevertheless, it ends itself crawling beneath your skin, setting a strong and distinguished mood. Throughout the movie, you hardly even notice the sound is actually there until you press the mute button. Suddenly, you begin to notice the shift in mood.

This deceptive way of stripping down music is something Eggersman developed even further in yet another score, Win/Win (2012). To refine his quest to devise the minimum even more, he perfectly put it to use as well in Hamden that same year. Its Eggersmans’s most self-reflecting, soul searching release till now, written and recorded with all the questions that come with turning thirty-three in the back of his head. A wondrous age, as it is for most men… The moment where a boy turns into the man he is supposed to be, taking up his cross (or is being taken on the cross) of burden. The certainties of the twenty-odd year olds are to be replaced by the insecurities that make up life as it is, this record captures that shift from arrogant to realist. For Eggersman, its the key moment to his search for God, leaving his doubt (a doubt that’s still clearly factored in Troostprijs) inside the church where Hamden was recorded. He finds trust. Or at least, so he says in interviews surrounding the release of the record.

This acquired sense of peace also finds its way into the music itself. His search for God is not one that awakens the preacher in him. It simply allows the wrinkles to subside from the water. Once more, silence becomes a dominant fixture in ME‘s: a silence that provides room to resonate inbetween the notes. Two years later, in 2012, the space inside the recordings becomes even more apparent in Reservoirs. A desolate, lucid and melancholic album, less structured and more abstract than its predecessor. This time, Eggersman shows his fascination for the later work of Talk Talk more vividly than ever. Production-wise, this record really has that eighties-feel; the use of vintage synths accentuates this even more so. Most of all, it’s an all-out practice in sobriety, leaving out more and more in the arrangements and leaning more on the soundscapes of his movie scores.

Which brings me back to At The Close Of Every Day. Having spent an abundance of words on a solo project of one of its members, was in fact necessary. Because that particular solo project has truly been essential to the development of At The Close of Every Day. Troostprijs (and before that , De Geluiden van Weleer) marked the three-piece’s search for this sobriety. Songs such as Uffelte, Het Hellende Vlak and the wonderful Doe Maar- cover Bang (which can be heard on ‘De Geluiden van Weleer) are deliberately slow and under-arranged, giving this dragging feel of suffering and hardship. The way the band manages to strip the Doe Maar classic to its naked core, while still capturing the essence of the tune is an achievement in itself. The band still felt he need to add in extra compositions and arrangements that, in hindsight, might not have been necessary.

Something At The Close of Every Day seems to realize themselves as well with remix-album Leaves you Puzzled. Here they allowed artists such as Styrofoam cut up and minimize their songs even further. The revision of the song I Need To Break Your Heart became Again, I Need to Break Your Heart, which can be found on the rare and unpublished compilation Monsters in 2013. Its pace is reduced even further, stretching the original to new and deeper slowcore-depths, the song only wins in intensity and grows from a good, to maybe one of the best At The Close of Every Day-songs, painfully amplifying the confessional words of the weak protagonist (“I need to break your heart/Minutes before we part. I need to spoil the punchline/(umhuhuh)/Seconds before you start“). Winds of shoegaze and noise remnants linger in the background, pretending to be the silence, leaving sufficient space for a ray of sunshine. And in comes that brilliant breakdown in the middle of the song, where the female vocal (Maartje Nijkamp) takes over from Eggersman. And again: not one tone too many.

It’s a song that aptly sets the stage for the dark, dragging silence that is Darkness Travels Light. During the making of this record, Minco Eggersman went through a hard period in his life… A deep valley. The lyrics suggest that he felt abandoned by “his” God (Oh Lord Hear My Prayer). That his outside appearance was not always a faithful reflection of the turmoil he felt within (This Smile Is Tired Of Faking). As promised, Darkness Travel Light gives us total darkness. But it is in fact a blissful darkness, one burdened with hope. One that gives you the sense of floating, almost a religious adventure in itself. This is not so much scrutinized in the lyrics…as it mostly comes from the music. Finally finding the bravery and restraint to leave out most of the music, At The Close of Every Day has construed full-on folk tales with a lack of sound. Or better, music replacing sound that feigns silence. Every song is lightly textured with drones: echoes of forlorn music that may or may not be just plain noise, meticulously layered to keep the static from outside from entering the songs themselves. In this way creating the sense of silence., a silence bringing a peace reaped out of darkness, beauty born and torn out of depression.

A medicine for those who suffer doubt and hurt to feel.

All in search for silence.

Hush dear, you’ll find it here.

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