In her engaging article “The Sad Boys of Sadcore” (The Paris Review, 2018), Kristi Coulter makes a convincing case for Australian band The Apartments, of wafting around in “their world of smoke and gin and hazy regrets, all webbed together with horns and strings”. She believes that’s how adult life felt, and began to see herself as a woman from one of their songs: “jaded (which I was), damaged (yep), challenging (check), but adored (intermittently)”. She “adopted The Apartments as a model for living”, something she realised later that their leader, Peter Milton Walsh, would have advised against.
The Apartments’ music may indeed be melancholic, but perhaps it exists to tell you that in fact feeling pretty glum can be a beautiful experience. The French particularly seem to understand this and have taken The Apartments to their collective Gallic hearts; In and Out of the Light is released by French label Talitres, who also put out The Apartments 2019’s Record Store Day release Live at L’Ubu. It could even be said that The Apartments are “Big in France”; they have a Frenchie following stretching back to the ‘80s, with touring to French towns no other Australian had previously set foot in.
A further reason for the particular French fandom may be because of their familiarity with a certain dramatic aesthetic, which is shared by French icon Serge Gainsbourg and British musician Baxter Dury; Walsh’s charming but slightly gruff croon is a contrast to the music’s fragility, and ensures the lyrics stand out.
But it may be a red herring, or at least a little bit fishy, to say that this album has a gloomy outlook. “Pocketful Of Sunshine” can be taken as a direct address to the subject, or listener, to be more optimistic, to cheer up, or more seriously as an expression of helplessness in dealing with someone with depression: “if I could, I’d put some blue sky in your head”. The minimalist lyrics convey some surprising complexity; listen again and we discover that historically the characters situations were reversed, when “you had your pockets full of sunshine I had my hands full of rain”.
In and Out of the Light is truly an album as opposed to a collection of singles; it is thematically consistent with an impressionistic focus on lost love and relationships. As a result it may seem downbeat, but the dark sense of humour is literally enlightening: in “Butterfly Kiss” Walsh delivers the zingy one liner – “Please don’t judge me now, there’ll be time for that”, and in “What’s Beauty To Do?” suggests “that was your special gift – to take something good and make a mess of it” (whether the person doing the bungling is someone else may be doubtful).
The album hangs with a heavy feeling of regret. Walsh, or his lovelorn character, exclaims that he “made a thousand wishes and it got me nowhere” (in “We Talked Through Till Dawn”) and that “instead of singing through the summer/I shoulda worked instead” (“Butterfly Kiss”). It’s hard not to have some sympathy.
The individuals in the songs are beautiful losers, and they know it. “The Fading Light” documents the world of a couple who are “looking good and going nowhere/that was the story of our lives”. Moving on is difficult; the restraint of the playing on “Write Your Way Out Of Town” artfully ensures a feeling of suspended animation to reflect the days repeating themselves and the required determination to change one’s life. “Where You Used To Be” sets out a philosophy of reluctance and disappointment:
Ask me about goals, you know I don’t have any
Ask me about wishes you know I got plenty of them
l’ve had plenty of them
Without this brutal comedy the album would be a more difficult listen. “I Don’t Give A Fuck About You Anymore” starts out with an angry, bitter sentiment, with the harsh opening that “it’s a mystery to me now, what I ever saw in you”, but this quickly switches to an apology for having “ghosted you.” Soon we understand the problem; the narrator is not over the object of his affection. He or she declares:
I like living without you. Can’t you see l’m getting by?
Except when l’m dreaming or drinking,
breathing or sleeping
walking or talking
To match the consistent theme of the album – “some fall in love, some fall in loneliness” – is its’ use of imagery, with the seasons playing a significant role. Working a few hours a day and one or two days a week, recording began in Sydney, Australia at the end of winter 2019 with parts also put down in France and England, and the final mix completed the day before coronavirus lockdown hit Australia in 2020. As the title of the album suggests, there is a strong sense of the changing light of the seasons, particularly the difference between winter, with “lamps on in every room/you’re wishing your life away”, and summer, the time of sunshine and happiness.
In and Out of the Light succeeds because of its’ simple, quiet sincerity. The music is evocative throughout, always suiting the story being told, with sensitive and sophisticated instrumentation from Eliot Fish, Natasha Penot, Antoine Chaperon, Nick Allum and Chris Abrahams. The accompanying notes to the album suggest that the characters on In and Out of the Light are looking for some “other way to live”. Walsh may not recommend that we live like his characters, but the dark moments revealed on In and Out of the Light are likely to be recognisable to many of us, making this album a cathartic, life-affirming pleasure.
Release Date: 18 SEP 2020