‘Relationship Goals’, the opener on How We Lived, swallows a corrosive ton of distortion, the drone cutting into ripe flesh like barbed wire; something has gone wrong, something has spectacularly failed. The recurring drone rolls around like a black, psychotic tide, washing up a messy swamp of tangled seaweed and negative emotions buried within its coarse locks: the drone has arrived in time to witness the soul’s very own creature from the black lagoon and its deep wounds of loss, betrayal, and not just anger but violent fury.
How We Lived is a tombstone and an epitaph. Heinali and Matt Finney’s teamwork has resulted in a dense, black-lit exploration of the self as seen through the eye of the storm, of tragedy and eventual recovery. The music itself wouldn’t have been possible without experiencing trauma. Despite the torment and the inner anguish, it’s a potent reminder that music is a healer – the pain and the remedy seeps through to the listener with every stark word and every tumultuous, stormy drone, which has the appearance of a black, inescapable pit.
Ukrainian composer Oleg Shpudeiko and Alabama-based spoken word artist Matt Finney have worked productively and prolifically together before. Although this is their first release in six years (‘Ain’t No Night’, 2011), their collaborations have always been fruitful affairs, and How We Lived is no different. Finney’s words are from the heart; his brave and admirable sentences have been through hell and have only just returned from the wilderness:
‘Maybe you stumble out of the woods four years later and you think you still have something to say, but all you do is go from desperate moment to desperate moment. It starts with critical acclaim. Someone out there wants to put out your record, becomes a close friend. You think this is it. You put your all into it but it never happens. You get bitter, you walk away. You lose your hair. You lose a child. Your dad dies. You’re broke and stuck in a trailer that’s falling down with the man who raised you and your brother and your sisters.’
The music rises in volume, blocking out the thoughts and the words, providing a necessary, cathartic drug. Years of enmity and pain have been stalking the land, like an adolescent hell-bent on cruel thievery, stealing away all that was once good; the devil taking a ride on the shoulders. As a result, this is a document of despair and not a cliché of triumph…although recording the album in the first place is a triumph of sorts (in the intervening years, Finney retreated away from music). The music is like a broken wreck, and that’s what makes it so volatile.
Finney’s spoken word covers the stone-like texture of the impenetrable drone with a bleak, authentic poetry which settles on the pock-marked slab like a lost raindrop. In part, the music whispers of re-emergence, but it’s absent of sentimentality and its more an exploration of the dark quagmire it found itself in. The words are a therapy, with each line tracing its path back home after a long spell missing. Make no mistake, the words cut through to the bone with a force equal to that of the obsidian drone. The wilderness is as dense as the music itself and it’ll take a brutal trek to escape it…but it does get out, thank God. The music has been unleashed from a cluster of dark clouds and darker stars, carrying enough rainfall to fill a well.
Scrawled in bleak ink, the words are brutally honest. A relegation of the spirit provides the ammunition, resulting in the duo’s fiercest record to date, a raw, heaving and metallic work that writhes in toxicity and wrenches itself out of the ashes. A sick heat blows out from the oily, flammable drone, and Finney’s confessions only help in fanning the flames. Scattershot drums lead into ‘Perfect Blue’, the coda, where a seismic, crushing drone fills the space and is akin to a military invasion. Nothing is hidden here.