By Michaela Barton (@lowkeypigeon)
Ushered into The Shameless Years by a growing haze of metallic sighs that almost resonate cold fresh winds, we’re introduced to an atmosphere that suggests impossible distance from anything tangible. That seems to be a theme with Rafael Anton Irisarri – the creation of experimental landscapes of sound that demands the listener to surrender for full spiritual immersion while also offering a passive guide through whatever strange universe the music creates. That description comes off as a bit, well, wanky, but it’s true. It’s hard not to become a bit of a tosser listening to this album – you kind of have to. It’s not an album for chucking on in the background while you’re cooking, it’s not for blasting while you’re in the car. The only way you can listen to this album is by lying down and sacrificing your day for repeated listens, a feeling of hopelessness and a not so healthy dose of existential dread.
The best way to describe The Shameless Years is through feeling because there really isn’t much else to offer. Imagine you’re watching a sci-fi film, most likely directed by someone like Christopher Nolan, where you don’t really understand what’s going on but all you do know is that all hope seems lost. There’s no action, just people realising that they’re going to die alone in space. Then boom, credits. You know that sinking feeling you get after watching something like that where you kind of don’t want to talk to anyone ever again because life is meaningless and all you want to do is marinate in angsty defeat? Well, The Shameless Years is basically that feeling. In fact, this album will probably be playing over the credits while you stare into the darkness and think “oh fuck, there is no meaning to life.”
Unfortunately, like most music that is trying to be more important than it is, this album suffers from repetition. The exact same theme is carried throughout the album, with no alterations to the pitch, just more distortion from the original. RH Negative is just a more urgent version of Indefinite Fields. Being almost identical, the only real slight difference to RH Negative is something that sounds like a distant, fuzzy crowd cheer layered on top. Bastion is ever so slightly different in that it sounds like the first two songs are being played underwater for a while. Still, nothing really all that new is added except the first hint of an instrument that is actually recognisable when a soft string accompaniment is guided slowly into the fray. Sky Burial continues the same theme, except with a feeling that wherever we were just lost in may finally be coming to an end. The final two songs – Karma Krama and The Faithless – act as a sort of aftermath. There’s an element of greater separation from previous songs, more like a weary recitation.
In a way, this album carries a theme of being lost. Lost in the abyss of space, stranded and staggering in a violent snowstorm, or sinking further underwater – take your pick. Either way, you get the sensation that you’re experiencing the journey of a lost protagonist trying hopelessly to find their way home. In the same way, the listener is on a journey to discover what the hell is actually going on in this album. Continuing the metaphor of the lost traveller, after drowning in floating sounds during the first two songs, the strings being teased out of the musical mist in Bastion represents the first glimpse of hope the weary traveller finds on their journey. The first hint of familiarity to cling onto. Sky Burial incorporates a sort of staggered breathing sound similar to that when using an oxygen tank, which gives the first human element to the album, perhaps indicating that life will prevail.
The slight separation from the rest of the album felt in the final two songs creates the feel that these represent the memories of events. Slightly distorted from the original, lighter, and even more distant sounding as the protagonist moves further away from their ordeal. Close, but not quite a carbon copy, just like real memories. Or maybe Rafael Anton Irisarri was just doing some hoovering in the recording studio, accidentally recorded and distorted everything then thought “fuck it”.
This album needs repeated and concentrated listens otherwise it’ll just pass over your head as yet another arty farty project most likely created by someone with a beard smoking too many joints and claiming to have read works by Camus and Sartre but actually just scanned the wiki page. It feels like this album was definitely created by someone that fits that description and will likely only be enjoyed by people who think they understand the “true meaning behind what everyone else just isn’t getting”. But, does that necessarily mean it’s bad?
Honestly, it’s hard to tell if this album is actually good or if it’s just like abstract art where you can plonk a traffic cone with sunglasses in the middle of the room and claim it’s actually a comment on the nihilistic nature of traffic wardens in modern culture. Has this album meaning? Or is it just a very dramatic prolonged fart? All that can be said is that it provokes thought and feel (mainly confusion but that’s not important) and from what can be understood of art, that’s kind of the point.
It may not be your thing (heck it wasn’t mine until I forced myself to sit down for this review and properly listen) but it is art – whether it‘s pretentious wind or a true masterpiece is up to you. If an uncivilized and unpolished human embodiment of trash like myself can get something out of this album, then there might just be something real there.