Carved From Tides, Jerome Alexander’s fourth album as Message To Bears finds him assessing his life, documenting uncertainty, and relaying the idea that whilst transition is almost inevitable, being in the now is perfectly ok.
This might sound terribly deep and inward looking, but in keeping the lyrical content to a minimum, and allowing the compositions to speak for themselves, they become elegant, immersive and welcoming. This is not an album that is closed off in the slightest; rather, there’s an openness here that allows engagement.
Most importantly, whilst the subject matter could have been interpreted as negative, Alexander has infused this album with a positivity that seeps from almost every track as if acknowledging that transition, whilst difficult can be important and lead to better things.
That’s not to say there aren’t some truly heartbreaking moments on the album. Beneath Our Snow, for example is stripped back and icy. Its ambient tones mix with some neat guitar lines, sounding for all the world like Jesse Hartman’s incarnation as Laptop. Yet for all the tugging at the heartstrings in a song about missing someone, there’s still the idea of connection and being re-united that retains a kernel of positivity.
Perhaps most important aspect of Carved From Tides is Alexander’s success in combining the electronic and the organic so perfectly. Electronica can feel impersonal and cold, but here, it’s simply a part of the tale. I’ll Lead You There might well start out as a folk-tinged acoustic ballad, but before long, the vocals of Will Samson and cascading guitar lines are given an ambient wash that only adds to the emotional resonance of the song. The minimal Spin/Float occupies similar territory, with the guitars and wonderfully harmonised vocals (provided by Jerome and his sister Gemma) underpinned by ambient washes and glitches. It somehow manages to feel understated, but also filled to bursting with emotion. It’s something that Carved From Tides achieves time and again.
Back at the start of the album is Never Again, which indulges in swells of sound. Sustained synths create a languid swell as delicate lines are introduced and withdrawn. Eventually the percussion and Alexander’s vocals take over, and with the dreamy atmospheres already established his basic vocal line about something being beyond the trees feels like a kind of guided meditation. Blossom follows, and is perhaps the most beautiful moment on the album. Aching, improvised string parts provided by Tim Gill open the song, before a glitchy beat takes over, Alexander begs “don’t let me in”. It’s simplistic, with the build being more important than the pay off, but the journey from organic to electronic is worth taking. It’s one of the few moments where there’s seems to be a division between the two aspects of instrumentation on the album. Which gives that lyric of “don’t let me in” something of a sinister spin.
The backwards loops that introduce They Ran also feel a little disorienting, but as the track grows in stature and its elements start to lock together, it opens out into something quite wonderful and beguiling. If there’s an overriding theme to this album, it can be found in Alexander’s ability to make a song swell. They Ran is the perfect example of this, but it happens constantly. He paces this songs so perfectly that they feel like that moment just before you’re about to break into tears, laughter or both.
It’s there in the ambient tones behind the elegiac trombone part that introduces the final track of the album. It’s in the strings, and it’s there in the trombone part itself. The build towards something glorious is incredible; it shimmers like the heat rising from a desert as the sun breaks over the horizon. The trombone parts add a pastoral feel to the clattering percussion, but the separation on inauthentic and inauthentic is redundant by the time Hold On reaches its apex, all that matters is that sense of achievement and wonder. It’s the perfect climax to an album that celebrates the idea of just being.