Review Summary: With the lines we draw, thresholds that promise peril for you and luxury for us
The weary traveller. Warmed by half-remembered heat from the long-expired hearths of home. A mass of fettered aches and gnawing hurt. He knows the sun rests on his face – he doesn’t feel it. He feels the cold, knowing bite of fresh air – he cannot stop to breathe it. Each step is one more from home. Each fading memory recalled, two more forgotten. The want is to stop, but he cannot, lest he recognise the unadorned trees that thicken the horizon as not being the same that still keep watch over the place he lived in.
Luxury Mass feels, in an unfortunate way, timeless; a tragic anti-parable on the degradation of the displaced. Chronicling the regrettable journey of one man siphoned from home to elsewhere, it serves as a bleak portrait of the indomitable trials of any refugee. Our shivering storytellers are Peter Devlin and James Joys – the former’s weathered baritone an enduring weight atop the latter’s expressive, breathing compositions. Take the tarred opening of ‘Blackened Shores’, steeped in an atrophied wail of synth and rattling-bone percussion, the blow of the plight softened somewhat by linguistic levity: “Oh Errol in blackness, feral under black lights / with little else to carry but his songs from the islands / the songs that keep captive his concrete consonants”. It is wistful, but it is punitive – as is the whole half hour, dense with the breadth of language in its employ as ammunition against the pestilence of misplaced pride.
You’ve the disarming stiff-arm of ‘Arrival’, almost entirely composed of an impressively inauspicious run-on sentence, sardonic as if told by the sneering ferrymen extending bony hands but not a lick of courtesy, pauseless as an abattoir conveyor belt: “...an injury that marks the severance / between here and there so that the cut of your tongue will carry no weight / and not enough air...” Devlin draws out that last syllable like it’s being forcefully extracted from his core, rendered mute and plundered of identity. But he rumbles and rouses, “With the lines we draw, thresholds that promise: peril for you! and luxury for us!” This, somewhere between sequestered rallying cry and desperate lamentation, an unbridled outpouring of frustration bolstered by the renewed thunder of Devlin’s staunch voice.
And so, to stave off the ever-present threat of man and his impositions, the Belfast duo turn to Mother Nature and the gifts she bears. On ‘Run To The Porcelain Hills’, Devlin sings of mountains and forests, blanketed by snow and swathed by sun. His voice ambles and gallops over the hills of Joys’ delicate piano, steadily gaining momentum before cascading into a pirouette, led by the wrists, an ecstatic celebration of the natural world. He sweetly croons afterwards: “...and ask you to crawl inside and whisper / all the words for snow, and all the words for light / all the words for night, all the words you know.” You begin to think of the pervasiveness of the elements that bind and join us. The falsetto takes us skywards, with the sparrows and their borderless birds-eye view.
Luxury Mass does a harrowing job, however, of reducing humanity from the intimacy of thought, emotion, and kinship to the reality of insentient viscera. On the remarkable ‘Wednesday’s Child’, full of woe, our gaslit wanderer finds shelter but not solace above a butchery. “Lungs they hang, strung like chilli in a window downstairs; the feet, and ears, and snout, and eyelids pulled away.” Isolated, these are just parts. “It’s all in the eyes you’ll say, where the souls lay.” He mutters of his creaking body and the song dwindles to a near halt. Then, soft strings nurture it back into life with a mothering embrace, and he finds his voice once more. Though he still considers himself just an assembly of scraps, he is living and feeling by virtue of his rescuer: “I have you honey! I have the milk of your kindness.” The pained delivery is gilded with a very human hope – but the torment has been heavy, and thick. He isn’t human. Worse than just parts. “I am the blood, I am the phlegm, I am the choler, and I am the bile.” As swift as the lift to sanctuary, swifter still the harsh plummet from it.
All told, there’s some serious weight to this record. It’s not easy to be staring at the damaged human psyche, lost like any other in a “world that unfolded so plainly for those who came before us”. More than before, thanks to this gloomy, radiant pop, I feel privy to the fact that we are all of the same ilk. We gaze at the same skies as our forebears and our successors. And whilst Luxury Mass instils in me a fear of the stiflers and the heavy hateful hands, it awakens the poetic, unflinching love. It’s unfortunately timeless, yes – but if I’m lost, and stop and see the trees, I’ll know that they are
the same ones keeping watch over the place I lived in.