Saåad – Présence Absente (Hands In The Dark, 2018)


Love in the time of the World Wide Web. A billion voices all jostling for cyber space, humanity ostensibly closer to one another than ever before, so why is it that all we can feel is nothing for our fellow men and women?

Absent Presence is an apt title indeed for Saåad’s 5th full length (not counting their various appearances and collaborations), made only the more beautifully appropriate by their usage of live show recordings. There’s always been a personal, physical dimension to their music, and for a record that craves touch and intimacy above all things it feels even more right for this content to be live. None of the scale or potency has been lost, and all it has gained is the spontaneity and resonance that comes with these sessions.

It begins, as these things often do, in the bottle of “Libations”; hollow, flat bells ring out dully, cheerless strikings that echo to an unsympathetic and enveloping mulch of darkness. They sound like notifications in the digital void, distant messages going unread and unanswered on the unglamorous and unintersested receiving end of some distant foreign body. Suffocating guitar drones overtake the bells with little ceremony as an oppressive isolationism sets in: how can one be lonely with so much talk and texture around them?

The night grows later in “22:22 (esveil)”, synths crooning in Vangelis suspensions, perhaps beckoning for a less digital past. Electronica unravels and unwinds, spinning out in the drone laden backfield into frayed masses of piercing, spiralling, cathartic thought as the piece sinks into diffuse oblivion. Night beckons: sustained synth chords; bassy guitar drones; retreat into resignation. It makes its way into mid-album powerhouse “Ire (An Euphonic Discord)” in all its restrained anger.

It needles and niggles at first, a nagging tone that transmutes into a harmonious growth; from eerie to glowing it only continues its expansion. How the sound is formed I don’t know, rising swells that could come from an accordion or a shruti box, unbidden masses of thrumming textural density that heave in sustained energy, beauty in the face of chaos and unnatural developments. Retreat is the only escape, and it slips away from artificiality into the real world, filling itself with sweet birdsong as the crumbling electronica breaks in all its false pretences. It transitions sweetly, imperceptibly into “Offline Migrations”, resting in nature for a short while.

It has a rallying power to it though, a rising clamour in the passionate defence of the physical realm. It moves with a boldness and power not yet seen, overwhelming drone density that consumes and engulfs: the source of this power remains ambiguous however. Is it this defence of “reality”, of physicality, or is it the oppressive force of politics and 24/7 news stations and turmoil felt in the flesh? The latter is hinted at strongly in the off-kilter discomfort of ominous closer “Temps Etranger”, foreign time. Big Ben tolls in warning strokes, notes out of sequence, off-key; there is a sense of familiarity yet notable strangeness in its presentation. It feels tired, dying in its creaking analogue sensations, its iconic notes ringing coldly to an unflattering silence.

It’s a hell of a political statement to leave the record on, Britain’s bells resounding against the back of a turned Europe. Changes lie within and without, the future is a strange place and it seems every day the lonely, discorporeal separation of bodies becomes greater at a time when the opposite should be occurring.

This is a masterstroke.