In a recent email exchange with someone, I again addressed that with very few exceptions, I despise music with lyrics. Often I find the intrusion of the singer to be unbearably egotistic and self-aggrandizing on their part, and by the close of even a three minute pop song the urge to physically throttle the singer is almost impossible for me to control.
I did mention exceptions though. Reigns is one of my favorite bands. I find everything about their music, from the conceits that form the concept of each of their four albums to the sonic experimentation to the fascination with darkness, magnetic. To date, Reigns has released four albums, and it depresses me how little is written about them online. These albums are We Lowered A Microphone Into The Ground from 2005, Styne Vallis from 2006, The House On The Causeway from 2009 and The Widow Blades from 2011. You can, and should, read a bit about each album on their site here because the premise of each is amazing. The first two had very little in the way of human voices, but Reigns has been adding more and more vocal elements to each album. The reason I can tolerate is that, with their songs, Reigns tells stories. I like story songs.
So now, in the fading days of October, with Halloween approaching and 2012 dying more and more with each sunset, I've been listening a great deal to Reigns. As I work through the Heart of Darkness illustrations and some other stuff for The Alligators of Abraham, their chilling, gloomy, disquieting and disturbing stories are the perfect soundtrack. I'd like to share a few of their songs this week, along with the lyrics which are incredibly well crafted and integral to the experience.
This song, Four and a Half Minutes Missing, is from their most recent album The Widow Blades. The premise of the album is, from the band's web site, as follows:
Whilst growing up in the country, Reigns Operatives A & B, from an early age became aware of the bizarre, yet inconclusive, fate of a woman from a neighbouring village. It took some years (and a great deal of wading through a seemingly endless stream of local conjecture) for them to ascertain that the woman in question was Millicent Blades: a middle-aged widow who had disappeared during the blizzard of 1978, vanishing somewhere between the villages of Tup’s Fold and Tone Gulley. Nothing was found of her save a set of interrupted footprints and a pile of clothes – all turned inside out.
The intervening years have provided much in the way of outlandish theories pertaining to her disappearance but very little in the way of answers. In a possibly futile attempt to reverse this situation and still haunted by the stories they heard as children, Operatives A & B went back to the area to document her final journey across the countryside. Using equipment selected purely on the basis of portability and resistance to the elements (with perfect synchronicity, their week of recordings coincided with the heaviest snowfall since 1978), they recorded at all the key locations that the widow visited (or is thought to have visited) on her final, fateful day: including, amongst others, her house and that of her physician, an Anderson shelter (home to a vagrant who was briefly suspected of her murder), a former tea room that she had frequented since the fifties, a disused tannery, and (for the climactic 20 minute closer, “The Mounds”) an excavated series of barrows; the approximate location of her disappearance.
The recordings proffered no conclusive answers: whether this was due to the inclemency of the weather, the passing of time and the resultant cooling of the trail, or the operatives’ disastrous decision to record the entire album under the influence of Hybrium Sulphate (a monstrously unpredictable chemical that the widow had herself been prescribed) is a moot point.
A brilliant starting point, and the eleven interconnected songs that follow create a startlingly realistic mosaic of the last day of Millicent Blades' life. Four and a Half Minutes Missing has just enough of the fantastic to discomfit the listener and trouble the sleep. It tells of a woman who, later in her life, began to be troubled by mysterious blackouts which always lasted, strangely, for exactly four and a half minutes. No video, but this link will play the song. Read along with the lyrics below for the full effect. And use headphones. Better that way.
She seized up
At the casement
What she saw
Set her trembling
There was a click in her skull and a dullness descended and spread
Reeled on the spot and lowered and buckled her legs
She came down in the hallway and fell through the floor like a mist
Passed through the cellar and into the ground with a hiss
She came to
In a pasture
Two feet of snow
Just like last year
Beneath an oak
A tiny figure
It outstretched a hand and began to advance through the snow
She could not distinguish the face extinguished and low
Then her blood slowed as a smile bisected the head
Four feet away and the greyness ascended and spread.
And a half
Two minutes and a half
And a half
She’s been gone for four
Four minutes and a half.