Unpopular Advent 2015 - Day 17: Apartments - 'No song, no spell no madrigal'
Captured Tracks reissued The Apartments’ wonderful ‘The Evening Visits…’ set this year and that was of course something to celebrate. If you have not been aware of The Apartments then discovering that treasure will be of enormous pleasure. Be sure, however, to also pick up the new ‘No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal’ set that also appeared earlier this year. It is sensational.
Now in these times of instant information retrieval you can catch up on Peter Milton Walsh’s backstory easily enough, though I rather feel this is a shame, for it would be more fitting if the details were only available in the yellowing pages of archived magazine articles held in dusty oak-lined libraries. Treasure to be discovered by the archaeologists. There is a lovely line in a Guardian article where Walsh comments on his relative invisibility over the years, saying he has been “hard at work developing my sitting still and keeping quiet talents, which to me are a little bit neglected in this world”. Amen to that.
Indeed, if ever a record were to sound like ‘sitting still and keeping quiet’ then ‘No Song…’ would be among the chief contenders. And like other nominees such as The Blue Nile’s ‘Walk Across The Rooftops’ or Talk Talk’s ‘Laughing Stock’ it is a record that understands that ‘keeping quiet’ does not necessarily equate to leaving empty spaces. Richly textured and deliciously coloured (Amanda Brown’s string arrangements are a delight), the record is one that radiates sadness in the most beguilingly warm manner. That sorrow is of course immensely personal (the loss of Peter Milton Walsh’s young son in 1999 threads unapologetically through the record) but equally it transcends the specific to become universal. The album’s monumental centre-piece ‘Twenty One’ is almost too raw to listen to and yet so divinely wonderful you would never dare turn it off. Even a song as apparently ecstatic as the gorgeous 'September Skies’ is dusted with melancholy, whilst album closer ‘Swap Places’ sees Milton Walsh asking “Where’s the God in all of this?” above an almost spectral wash of strings, piano, guitars and a forlorn heartbeat drum. No answer is expected or even possible of course, but one does rather want to insist that God is in each detail of every one of these songs; is in the creaks and cracks of the vinyl as it spins; is in the sound that fills the space of our hearts as we listen.
I imagine that to Peter Milton Walsh ‘No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal’ feels like the tiniest fragment of balm to wounds of immeasurable pain. To the rest of us it sounds like a masterpiece of delicate beauty.