Heart Without Protection – Postdata’s trip through life’s emotional headwaters
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Haunting. Ethereal. Delicate. Each of these adjectives could be used to describe the mood created by the songs on Postdata’s debut. Yet, none of them quite capture the complexity or the ineffable swirl of emotions and slow motion regret that Halifax’s Paul Murphy and his brother Michael who make up Postdata explore over the disc’s nine subdued tracks.
Postdata’s songs share an affinity of spirit with those on such iconic albums as Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ or Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ in the sense that they could only be the work of a young artist who has not yet developed the scar tissue or perspective that life’s disappointments inevitably bring to those who survive their youthful years. Murphy’s songs describe a universe in which the players seemingly don’t understand that there’s a next day, next month, next year, and that life continues to wind its way forward through all of our travails and disappointments. Sensitive in the extreme, Leonard Cohen on his worst day would have been able to brush himself off and pick himself up with more grace than the characters in Postdata’s songs are able to muster. With lines like “remember our bodies when we were both twenty” and “I give my head, my hands, my skin, the lining of my stomach”, these songs may not appeal to those who have come to terms with life’s struggles, and one could be forgiven for wishing that Mr. Murphy would just buck up, bite the bullet and accept that shit happens. So, with the proviso that the enjoyment one derives from listening to Postdata may have as much to do with where one is on his or her life’s journey as with the inherent quality of the music itself, the Murphys’ debut nevertheless features a beautiful collection of songs that deserve to be heard.
Sonically, Paul Murphy’s compositions are reminiscent of late period Nick Drake or Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd without the irony or bizarre humour. With song titles like “warning”, “drift”, “eclipse” and “paranoid clusters”, I was worried that Postdata were nothing more than an emo band in a lo-fi disguise, and I was prepared to hate the CD before even listening to it. Yet, part way through the first song, I found myself being drawn into the poignant tender tragedies that each carefully constructed track evokes. As I immersed myself deeper, it became impossible to dismiss songs so pure, resolute and unblinking in their approach. Employing little in the way of effects, Murphy and his rudimentary guitar figures – occasionally augmented by an electronic drone or stray banjo chord – give the impression of a lone individual standing resolutely on high ground as chaos and devastation swirl around him. With no distance, perspective or protection – Murphy never drops his gaze or lets his hand tremble on the wheel as he steers his listeners through the tortured landscape his muse inhabits.
As someone much closer in age to fifty than I am to twenty, the songs on Postdata’s debut make me feel uncomfortable. They are too well-realized and emotionally true for me to forget or discard, and remind me when I – like it or not – used to be able to feel the stings and arrows of life as acutely as Murphy seems able to. They conjure up a time when I used to prioritize examining my emotions and searching for ultimate truth above the practical demands of daily existence. A time before necessity gave me no alternative but to – in the words of Shakespeare – ‘put on manly readiness’ and walk out head held high through the fields of life’s trickery and devastation. Postdata bring back a time before forgiveness and compromise inevitably blur our own remembrance of truth and essential idealism. Highly recommended.
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