The Lonely Bell – The Absent Years (Oscarson, 2024)

CoViD was this hole in the world that life fell into, swallowing growth, swallowing time, swallowing love. I remember saying to one of my friends that it felt like I’d lost two years of my life: who I was, who I wanted to become, things I wanted to do, all became things frozen in a moment, and I (we) came out of this older and changed. It was as though some part of ourselves had been eroded away, lost in the purgatory we faced during that period.

It took me a long time to come to terms with that, especially as I faced moving in to my thirties right when the world felt it was returning, and I had come so far before it. But it was necessary, because resentment flourishes in the wallowing of what could have been.

It’s difficult to listen to Ali Murray’s latest as The Lonely Bell and not read this pandemic lookback coded into its fabric, with its suggestive titling and plaintive melodies a siren-song of dispassionate remembrance of a time we hope never to see again.

It begins in motion with a statement: “Someday The Rain Will End”, Chihei Hatakeyama-esque drones appearing already in progress, depositing us in the now-that-wishes-to-be-over. Water ticks and burbles distantly, somewhere beyond, a precipitating baptism and vehicle to carry us into the future.

Weather again haunts sophomore “Life Without Love”, keening through cracks and holes as a cold wind blows through a visceral emptiness. Guitar trickles in slowly to fill the space, blossoming into a sparkling sort of acceptance difficult to define, yet reluctantly understood.

Reductive drones also suck back interior “I Want To Tell You Everything”, a barely there presence as glimmers of thought and need float across its twilight ebb as soft piano and humming synth. It exudes a quiet need, not knowing quite how to express itself, break out of its shell in this seemingly loveless world the outpouring of its tortured interior.

The curious interstitial pair of late “Ghostly Mist” and “Only The Memory” blow through almost without touching the sides, the former little more than a suggestion of sound, forgotten fragments of impossibly delicate drone and lost voices. The latter is a tired loop of elegiac piano, haunting in its aged sadness, and almost out of place in its The Caretaker-esque maudlin spinnings.

When the seminal closer appears there’s this uncertainty to the thing, some lingering feeling that sits inside the crooning synths and wanton violin strings. The curtains may close on the moment but what it was remains, this pervasive sense of absence and loss, sitting like black tar in the bottom of the heart as a permanent stain deposited in the centre of us.

As difficult as it is and has been, one must to come to terms with the personal and cultural affect in all its difficulty and impacts. We shouldn’t dwell, but it’s not unsafe to sit and acknowledge these things in the sanctity of moments such as The Absent Years.