Reviewed by Mark Logie
by Channel D
27 May 2016
Although its darkness is a little too unrelenting, Unravelling is a virtuoso performance, but it is much more than that. The long-awaited follow-up to Mosaic of Disarray was born of a terrible period in singer-songwriter Nick de Grunwald’s life when he felt he was coming apart at the seams. This new album dazzles the listener with the sheer variety of the songs, constantly delighting the listener with new soundscapes and characters stuck on the wrong side of life. It is an aural page-turner with an emotional rawness at its heart, a much more personal, more intense, work than its predecessor, but undoubtedly darker, covering such themes as loneliness, despair, loss and mental breakdown, to name just a few.
The first track, Birds When Disturbed, is a slow-paced yet catchy song about the sense of loneliness that is peculiar to the night and the accompanying feeling that another, very different, surrealistic, world is out there in the darkness. The style (not the content) reminds me vaguely of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows but is much slower. Gently sung in a minor key, the overall effect should be sad but it somehow ends up being world-weary. The exciting bass-guitar riff and the focused, almost not-there vocals help make this song a master of understatement and a quiet masterpiece with a little hope here and there: “Yesterday it rained/ Grass will grow”.
My personal favourite is Panic. Its electronic-sounding drum beat, electric guitar and almost ghostly synthesiser chords evoke the breathless anxiety of the horror film but with far greater subtlety. It conveys the sense of isolation and claustrophobia of someone suffering unbearable stress while having to go through the motions of everyday life. It does this through an expressionistic portrayal of a hellish train journey: “Get on the train/ Going God knows where” and “People in pain around me/ I can’t see their eyes/ They know nothing of me/ They can’t see I can’t breathe … PANIC”.
New Year’s Eve is despairing, but despair has never come more attractively wrapped than this with its beguiling acoustic guitar and tender vocals . It is a longing for life to be better but tempered by a conviction that it won’t. Result: utter hopelessness. However, with a little more balance, this song could have been beautifully poignant (which it very nearly is), but it manages, by a whisker, to remain depressing. Yet, this song grew on me because the second time I heard it I found I liked it rather more, but it still could do with being less unrelentingly downbeat. I suspect a lot of people would like it much better if it were slightly more hopeful.
When I think stop and think just how dark de Grunwald’s lyrics are, I am amazed the overall effect isn’t sad or depressing. The pain and melancholy that is evident is almost unbearable to listen to at times; pop music has certainly grown up. It’s been a long time coming, and it started some years ago, but with Unravelling pop music has moved beyond mere entertainment and taken its place alongside painting, cinema and literature as a mature, fully-fledged art, capable of moving the soul as well as feasting our ears.
For more information: www.channeldmusic.com
About the reviewer: Born in Camberwell, southeast London, Mark Logie has always been a keen reader and from about the age of nine started writing the occasional story for his own pleasure. Over the next few years, an interest in filmmaking distracted him from writing; later on, he worked briefly as a runner for a video production company, before turning back to writing. His first novel for young adults, Deadfall (a thriller for 12-year-olds and older about terrorism and computer-hacking), was published in 2012, the Kindle edition reaching number 15 in the Amazon bestseller list for its category. Also, Mark Logie’s poetry and short fiction for adults have won awards from CanYouWrite and ABC Tales. [You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]