Memory loss is terrifying on the deepest existential level. It’s a condition that slowly gnaws away at every part of an existence. It leaves only a shell with no ghost. Unfortunately, it is also a disease with an impact that is increasing annually. As we remove natural predators and previously untreatable conditions from the gene-pool-culling Olympics, more of us may eventually succumb to this trembling inducing fate. It’s a tough idea to face and an even harder one to explore artistically as it’s too frightening to bear thinking about for extended periods of time. But there is this inherent layer of cheap melodrama bilked into it so that any honest attempt at exploring a life through this lens can veer wildly between too real and too much. Hannah Peel did an excellent job on 2016’s Awake but Always Dreaming and UK sound designer The Caretaker has ambitiously and artistically confronted the subject over the past number of years through his Everywhere At The End of Time releases, but it’s not a very fertile subject matter otherwise. But hats off to Typhoon and their latest LP, Offerings, for diving head first into the abyss and returning with snippets of lives lived only in jumbled snapshots. At 70-odd minutes, this record is densely layered and captures the fractured sense of time, place and self that accompanies a loss of memory. While it does lose its lustre with repeat listens, what it does right, it does impeccably.
Typhoon as a group is a curiosity. More a collective than a band, their membership features nearly a dozen names, two drummers, strings and a horn section. To their credit though, they do utilise their numbers to its fullest. Everyone here contributes in a meaningful way to the scope and beauty of the collection. This is evident in the string-driven crescendos of ‘Darker’ or ‘Empiricist’ or the gang vocals on ‘Wake’ that force you to sit up and fully take notice.
Musically the album hits on a few well-trodden beats but the songs do develop and grow as they progress, making it hard to pin down the specific influences. On the delicate and muted end, there are many shades of Conor Oberst’s various outfits, little trickles of Julien Baker and a gigantic amount of Sufjan Stevens. It’s hard to hear a song like ‘Chiaroscuro’ without immediately casting your mind to something like Carrie and Lowell. On the bombastic end, they owe a clear debt to a certain type of indie music from the mid-2000s. Arcade Fire is front and centre within this, but you’ve also got the tiny hints of Modest Mouse and The Killers on tracks like ‘Rorschach’ and ‘Unusual’. The group does derive a large part of their identity from their influences without putting much back. This can be detrimental to the experience as it does at times feel as those disparate sounds have been stapled together, demonstrated on a piece like ‘Remember’.
The real magic of this record though is in its words and its ambition. Kyle Morton is a man who knows how to tell a story and how to give it enough teeth to make a mark. He neatly captures the moments and indignities which befall the victims of illness: Not recognising loved ones, downplaying major health problems, and losing touch with the world around you as though it was a passing breeze. Throughout the record he completely floors you with sharp lyrical stabs: “Listen — of all the things that you are about to lose, this will be the most painful”.
These are the ideas that fuel him and which allow him to bring genuinely emotionally draining thoughts to the forefront. They’re married very tidily to the music which attempts to distill that sense of disorientation and confusion despite the songs often twisting and bending at a moment’s notice. While there is a common, muted motif running through each piece, you’re never exactly certain when or if the song will turn or not. It lends to the proceedings a welcome tension that elegantly dances with the subject matter. It makes for an exciting voyage initially but as you delve further into some of the magic that suspense can be lost. You find that the tracks which were originally captivating and untamed are actually quite rigid and straightforward.
This is an LP that plays a risky, yet worthwhile, game upfront by being so unwieldy at first. But the longer you spend with it, the more the shine begins to fade. This isn’t helped by the runtime which could stand to be slightly shorter as there are few albums that can reasonably justify being this long.
Overall though, this is a genuinely interesting collection, and the attempts to tackle hefty and uncomfortable topics with such aplomb is admirable. The sheer texture and nuance is a beauty to behold. While it might not hold up on repeat trips, that first hit is something absolutely essential. Will Murphy