The Erasure man leaves synthpop to one side with these expressive pieces, which form a musical meditation exploring the extremes of emotion experienced in a dark and treacherous world
Until now, all we know of Vince Clarke is in his work as a collaborator. For over 40 years he has been able to claim responsibility for some of the cream of British electronic pop as a founder member of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure – in the latter of which where he still resides. But of his solo work we have heard nothing.
Lockdown has changed all that. Taking advantage of the restrictions, Clarke set about working on his own material in his New York studio, in the company of his cat and the modular synthesizer format Eurorack. The outcome was an album whose music is entirely derived from that system, but which reveals some intensely private thoughts in an unexpected musical direction. For while Songs Of Silence is almost completely wordless (save a striking quotation of a mining folksong on Blackleg) it speaks in a profound language every listener will understand.
Clarke here uses drones as his musical currency, rather than intricate synth lines or memorable chorus hooks – though his talent for both of these is glimpsed as some of the busier material evolves. Each of the 10 sonic vistas of Songs Of Silence is based on a single note, a reference point of great stability over which the treble can freely operate. The tracks are pictorial, with Cathedral and Red Planet vividly descriptive examples.
Even when Clarke pares back his material to a one-note basic, a stately intensity prevails. This becomes even more meaningful when the music bares its soul. This it does on Lamentations Of Jeremiah, Reed Hays’ cello probing at the corners of the mind with an emotional melodic line. This is music speaking with no filter of trial, hardship and loss. Contrasting in timbre but no less powerful is the vocalise brought to Passage by Caroline Joy, whose penetrating tones release the energy generated by the preceding White Rabbit.
Clarke’s soundscapes are often as craggy and imposing as his close-up black and white album packshot image, rising before the observer at daunting angles or closing in like the outskirts of a dense forest. And yet there is comfort within, the reassurance of the held pitch cushioning the blow and offering a place to rest our weary heads.
Parallels with the covid outbreak are inevitable as Clarke explores grief, alighting on familiar themes as the music bristles with anger or resentment before finding comfort and ultimately peace. These are emotions we have glimpsed only occasionally in his previous musical work, the cultured pop songs a distant memory as these great structures stretch before us.
Thanks to Clarke’s musical frankness, Songs Of Silence extends beyond the tumult of lockdown to offer a blueprint and a coping mechanism for life itself. His assured technique with the synthesizer voices and musical material ensures there are no half measures, no tagging on to the supposed ‘post-classical’ blueprint string-drenched, piano-rich numbers.
Instead, these are expressive pieces that fit together to form one overarching musical meditation, exploring the extremes of emotion experienced in a dark and treacherous world. Because of this Songs Of Silence is not for every moment in the day, but when you listen it carries great meaning, in spite of the lack of words.