The last couple of years have been hard for us all and we’re starting to see the experiences of this tumultuous period coming through in the art of today. None more so than the music we are listening to. Such is the preface to the new album from Maryland based musician Sean F. Schultz aka Soñder.
Broken in Place is an album created to heal and to process the grief from the loss of his father. This is a pain and journey we will all face in our lives. One which we’ll all need help and support through.
The journey begins in the digitised intro to ‘SubUrban Sprawl’. Soon the drums and synths lift us into a majestic soundscape evoking a futuristic city. There’s a lovely section mid song where the track takes a quiet break making the build to the end all the more dramatic and ominous. Glorious start to the album.
‘Alarm #2’ is next. It’s a discombobulating, panic attack in musical form. It captures the anxious energy and then very cleverly flips the mood half way through a couple of times. It erupts into this purposeful, driving number before settling back into a nervous moment and back again. This one really keeps you on your toes.
The signposts are clear in the next track ‘Organ Donor’. The guitars are literally crying, screaming with the grief of loss. The song even samples the life support machines final bleeps. The pace doesn’t let up, as life doesn’t. We must process what we are hearing as you would the loss itself. Damn, this is clever songwriting.
Following this is ‘Monster Trucker’ it’s a groove driven piece with sumptuous layered guitars punctuated by glassy then creamy dark synth tones. The intensity of this music is overwhelming at times, as is grief. The cries of “is anyone out there, anyone” are utterly heart-breaking in the closing section.
The expressive guitar playing steps up a notch in ‘a Maze in’. they genuinely sound like the cries of anguish, of confusion. Shultz is pushing his playing to the extreme on this track. Guitars soar and dive around and over each other interspersed with a spoken word track.
‘1984’ arrive awash with the most impressive synth wall of sound so far. Sounding far more uplifting and cohesive than the previous tracks, almost like a moment of calm or lucidity has befallen Schultz and his optimism is shining through.
It’s with a heavy wink of the eye Shultz names ‘Black Notes Matter’. Thundering piano notes pound as the guitars and drums scrap it out. After a short peaceful interlude, the track kicks back in and escalates to frenetic workout. This occurs a couple more times. The quiet section only making the louder piece more potent, more powerful.
We head down to the ‘Underground’ next. Traversing this song in the regular rhythm of the carriage as it moves steadily, station to station. There’s a palpable sense of contemplation here. Almost like we are taking some time out to ponder our place in life. Sombre synth tones carry the bass notes while the guitars and drums add that metallic element to the soundtrack of this journey. It’s a really effective use of music to convey imagery to the listener.
‘Horror Bull’ has us back in that anxious mode. The descending bass adds a claustrophobia hitherto untapped on this album. This leaves the synths and guitars free reign to play with our panic and existential dread. It’s a heavy, unrelenting and unforgiving track. All the more effective that way. To me it signals the very nature of grief.
Next up is ‘Outer Lude 4.24’. This is an upwards facing song, like screaming to the heavens at night. Where the drums have dictated the pace throughout the album it’s the synths stepping into that role here. Could this be symbolic of the head taking control again from the emotional beat of the heart? I’ll let you decide.
We close out the album on a more chilled note with ‘S.O.B.’. It’s almost balladlike in contrast to the extremes of the preceding tracks. Whilst there is a kind of acceptance in the pace and more stripped back nature if this song there remains that undercurrent of anxiety. To me this says that grief isn’t a process you go through. It’s something that lives with us forever. Sometimes it’s there at the forefront of our minds, bringing us to our knees. Other days it’s there to remind us of the good times and to keep our loved ones close forever.
In Broken in Place Schultz has crafted a deeply thought-provoking album that challenges all our pre conceptions of loss and our reactions to it. It is immensely affecting and will reward repeat listening’s with more layers of meaning. More discoveries in its stunning mix of synths and guitars.
Broken in Place is available now on CD and digital via Bandcamp.
You can follow Soñder on social media here.