by Craig Howieson
In life, we inevitably take some knocks. Some bigger than others. There are those we can brush off and carry on as we were. Others weaken us, lingering on for years to come. And then there are those which shake us to our very core – forcing our hand to either crumble or return stronger.
The years between the release of Samantha Crain’s last album, You Had Me At Goodbye, and this her fifth full length have been laced with the kind of trauma and struggle that would reduce most people to their knees. A car accident that left her close to being unable to play an instrument drove her into a period of rehabilitation and self-discovery, as something that once defined her was seemingly slipping away.
Despite its difficult origins, A Small Death does not sound like a road to recovery. It is not a record that attempts to stitch together the frayed ends of what was once there. Instead, it finds Crain bursting like a butterfly from a shady chrysalis into brilliant technicolour. With bones set like steel, Crain rivals the recent shapeshifting of Angel Olsen as she bounds through stylistic guises.
The pacing and structure of the album is immense – effortlessly flitting from the enchanting folk of High Horse to the ricocheting pedal steel and poptastic chorus of Reunion. Garden Dove even blusters in like Radiohead’s Just before being swamped by sleazy sax lines.
Wielding a voice that could breathe new life into scorched earth, Crain locks the ghosts of the past in a chest and hurls them into the hungry sea amidst the dreamy acoustics of Tough for You. It is one of the record’s most affecting moments – reliving the trauma of being strong and staying silent for those who would not do the same for you.
Joey searches for the perfection of a past love viewed through rose-tinted glasses. In assessing the cruel passing of time (‘I don’t see through those eyes anymore’), it questions whether it is ever too late to recapture what’s lost, and whether it is wise to dwell too long on that which time has washed away.
Sometimes, a small part of us has to die or be left behind in order for something new to take its place. On A Small Death, Crain not only addressed the struggle that got her here, but she lets go of elements of her past that were holding her back. She emerges reborn – securing a future in the imprint she leaves in the hearts of others.
Secret Meeting score: 88
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