As intellectually evasive as music genre names have the capacity to be (dig into music history, and you’ll realize how silly sub-genre names get – take post-hardcore or “screamo” for just two examples), there’s no question that Death Gospel (or Doom Gospel – depending upon the press release that one reads) chanteuse Louise Lemon has hit upon something truly special with A Broken Heart is an Open Heart – her sophomore effort. From top to bottom and front to back, a sense of solitary unhappiness and unrelenting introspection characterizes each of the ten cuts on the album, but each one also benefits from an all-consuming warmth; on one hand, there’s no way to miss that Lemon was hurt very badly in relationships passed, but she also holds herself accountable for her current emotional location – she concedes that the persona she’s presenting was as much her own creation as it was a reaction to the experiences she has endured.
As the A-side of the album opens and a record player’s stylus picks up the groove of “Sunlight,” a wave of low-toned feedback parts to reveal a slow-moving and solemn piano as well as Lemon’s own slowly-paced vocal. Initially, listeners might have a bit of difficulty slowing down to match this rhythm, but they’ll get there before long – anyone who has ever had their heart broken will find themselves putting down whatever they’re doing to focus on and absorb lines like “You left a light and/ And it blinded me/ Though that we were two it’s just me” and really take them into themselves; there is heart, soul and sorrow here – a great mixture of warmth and cold which doesn’t qualify as hypnotic, but is impossible to push past too. Listeners will find they’re only doing just that: LISTENING.
The tempo and the heartache in “Sunlight” doesn’t lighten in the slightest as “Montana” pucks up the same thread, but the mix is neatly appointed with a spare and tasteful drum figure as well as a light touching of added synths to fill it out before the singer keeps all of those elements but really achieves a stride with the “I was wrong” and “It’s not worth it” plaints expressed on “Not Enough.” While the two opening cuts on the A-side of A Broken Heart is an Open Heart are strong songs which do help to present Lemon in a strong and captivating light, “Not Enough” is the album’s first great success as it finds a perfect balance between the album’s established methodical movement and the melodic sense of heartbreak expressed in the lyrics. Combining these elements as the singer does here registers as the first triumph which appears on this album. After “Not Enough” sets the bar for A Broken Heart is an Open Heart, “Swimming In Sadness” meets that level again before the side closes and, while it doesn’t read like that should be enough to have listeners expectantly flipping the record over for more, it does indeed prove to be the case.
While the A-side of A Broken Heart is an Open Heart ably expressed a solid enough sampling of cuts to keep listeners enraptured with the proceedings, the B-side ups the stakes as soon as a stylus touches down on it with some good, old-fashioned hard feelings in the form of “Susceptible Soul.” There, Lemon begins to show some teeth, grit and resentment as some echoey, Pink Floyd-informed guitar appears atop a dark and simplistic but harrowing piano figure and helps to send chills up listeners’ collective spine more effectively than any vocal performance could ever hope to do [“Susceptible Soul” is an instrumental]. It may sound counter-intuitive in print, but “Susceptible Soul” perfectly marks a change in demeanour for the B-side A Broken Heart is an Open Heart; while the A-side was heartbroken and reflective in tone, the B-side feels instantly more active and resentful – a fact reflected in “Cross,” the second cut on the B-side which opens with the words “Your love is impossible, so I/ Make all love impossible.” The performance straddles the lines between contrary and angry.
After “Cross” surprises listeners with its more kinetic delivery, pushes into bluer territory like a less electronic but no less critical and introspective version of Portishead before relishing in heartache with “Almond Milk” and then resting in a dramatic/operatic space with the title track to close the album. That end really does seal in the goodness and the guarantee of desired multiple plays; the tone is instantly melodic and memorable, and is able to leave those listening with an ache that they’ll want to feel more than once. Not only that, listeners will find they’ll want to work through the album again and again after the first trip to try and absorb all the goodness along the way. In this particular case, listeners will have the option of running front to back with the vinyl, or by swapping formats and indulging the CD copy of the album which is also included with the set. And ON TOP OF ALL THAT, A Broken Heart is an Open Heart gets personal and gives listeners a chance to get an impression of how this music translates on a person-to-person level with a live CD included too. Some might call such a staggering amount of music included in one presentation overkill, but other (more level-headed) critics may claim that what listeners receive in this box is the perfect amount of information, because it covers A Broken Heart is an Open Heart from every possible angle. That’s true; with this set, listeners get intimately acquainted with Louise Lemon. Those who go through every piece of music included will feel as though they truly KNOW the singer, intimately.
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