Afterlife, the new album from Left With Pictures, mightn’t be officially released until April 29th but I’ve had a sneak preview. It’s a laidback yet confident work; big themes of death and rebirth are considered within the gentle chamber pop on offer. The beautifully arranged strings and keyboard flourishes are often embellished with choppy bits of electronica to make this a tad special.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about Left With Pictures before listening to ‘Afterlife’. And yet, they’ve been around for ten years. Over that time, the band has won critical praise and steadily refined their craft of inventive pop music, where the acoustic and the electronic are intricately combined. Afterlife will be their first release in five years.
It opens with ‘Multiplex’, an orchestral brief instrumental that sets the stall out for what will follow. This isn’t the album’s only instrumental track. Later, perhaps at the start of side 2 if this was a vinyl release, we get ‘Who’s there’, another short piece. That sense of shadowy menace is never far from the surface. But who is there?
Something is knocking and I don’t assume that the diagnosis is good. As early as the second track, ‘Bloody Mess’, we’re told, in a tune that could be lifted from Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, that the protagonist is ‘waiting for the moment to come when you know that you’re done’. Such starkness is hauntingly followed up in the next track, Terra Firma. ‘One day, I’ll find you at the waters edge’, they sing.
There are moments of respite. Within the jaunty keyboard riff of ‘The Start’, Left With Pictures prove that they can write a pure pop tune if forced. “Might this be the start of everything?” is the optimistic opine. This track follows the beautiful and cinematic ‘Stage Fright’, that sad waltzing moment in any Hollywood film before it all works out in the end.
But, when the resolution does arrive in final track, ‘The Night Watch’, it’s not complete glitz and glamour. Amidst shimmering, fizzy loops, we acknowledge that ‘all who love you will be there‘. This is the last rites; the album’s final goodbye.
Throughout, this is an album that contrasts the positive and uplifting with the unbearable lightness of being. It’s themes are challenging but it doesn’t make it inaccessible; for, at their heart, Left With Pictures remain a band that produce clever and captivating, interesting pop.