Aaron Martin – A Room Now Empty (Preserved Sound, 2018)


It’s been virtually two years to the day since my granddad died. If I close my eyes I can still see the living room, late night, gentle lamp light, palliative care bed up in the corner facing the french doors. That was the last time I saw him, body just clinging on. My grandma still lives there, in that room now empty: how she escapes the spectre of the space I don’t know.

Make no mistake, this is a sad record, filled with mournful strings and acoustic drones, the environment one largely of absence and mourning. It starts in “The Anticipation of Loss”, a slow rise of laboured strings that winnow and flutter, shimmering strands caught in the winds of change that blow through the piece. There’s little that we can do, as “Captive Witness (Smoke Inscription)” details: guitar pickings nestle amongst the cello lines, crooning to the encroaching darkness, pleading perhaps to a higher power in the faint light of a church candle.

Reminiscences appear in the core of the record, with the surreal and woozy strings of “First Time Underwater” and its spectral wind rushes breezing distantly through the chords, vaguely sounding like ecstatic child screams. It has a youthful innocence and lightness, a fondness emanating from a far distant memory. This movement through the watery current of time is expressed in followup “Bending, Wading” also, in its slow and swirling motions, cello drones reverberant and faded as we allow ourselves to be carried in the soft pull of the moment.

This allowance of nostalgia is terminated in the darkling “Memories Are Drifting Bells”, shifting sands of plaintive strings bleeding away into an echoic darkness, vocal coos humming in memoriam after its collapse. This falls diametrically against mid-album beauty “Surface in Relief”, whose initially mournful movements morph in careful guitar pickings and shuffling acoustica in almost explosive textural fractalization, memories unravelling in their depth of beauty, grace and significance, becoming increasingly lush and expressive with each unpicked thread of thought.

Similarly, closer “Moment of Passing” foregoes much of the melancholia built up across the span, defusing the positively painful trickle of hopelessly miserable precursor “Depth of a Glance” by spinning gentle ukulele in the final seconds. It brings a sense of lightness, sweetness, and resolution in its closing moments; the past is the past, that sad and empty room will be refilled but the significance of its memories wont be lost. If anything, they’ll only reinforce the goodness that the future holds.

What is it it that A.A Milne wrote? “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” It’s days like this and records this good that make those moments of hardship feel almost bittersweet.