There has been a lot written about the ability of sad music to trigger memories, which can either make us feel better or worse. A 2016 study run out of Durham University in the U.K. and Finland’s University of Jyväskylä found that participant reactions tended to fall under three categories: “pleasure, comfort and pain.”
For those like me who find sad music comforting, researchers say there are both social psychological and neuroscientific explanations. Social psychologists describe the benefit some of us feel when we compare ourselves to someone who is worse off. It’s referred to as “downward social comparison,” or more commonly reality-TV watching.
There is also a social psychology-related view that we gain comfort from listening to music that mimics or matches our state of mind.
Not surprisingly, neuroscience takes a more chemical-based view. Some in the field believe there is a connection between sad music and prolactin. That’s a hormone that helps us cope with grief.
“The body is essentially preparing itself to adapt to a traumatic event,” writes David Nield on sciencealert.com. “[W]hen that event doesn’t happen, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go.”
Followers of Leeds’ Dakota Suite will be familiar with all of the above. Chris Hooson has produced a striking body of work since the mid-1990s with a small cast of collaborators. This latest, featuring pianist Quentin Sirjacq, combines poignant singer-songwriting with acoustic guitar, piano, vibraphone, percussion and synthesizers.
The Indestructibility of the Already Felled is every bit as grand as its title suggests. What it definitely is not however, is grandiose. It is the work’s understated nature that makes it such an unforgettable listen. The album opens with “safe within your arms,” a picture-perfect opener.
Hooson sings in a quietly intimate style. The kind usually reserved for those closest to us, physically or otherwise. It suits his writing perfectly: “This sadness I bring you; you restore me with kindness. Each pain that I show you; will it break us in the end?”
Gorgeous stuff. But it’s not just the touching ballads (“away” is another powerful track) that make this such a compelling album. On occasion, conventional acoustic guitar and piano performances are paired with avant-garde flourishes.
“kogarashi (木枯らし)” features gentle percussion performed in a manner that mimics raindrops. “my thirst for you is where I hide” shifts seamlessly between acoustic guitar and electronic drone. “these nights without you” offers solo piano over quiet metal-on-metal screeches, like a train reaching a station in the distance.
It’s all both moving and thought-provoking simultaneously. If you’re among those who find sad music painful to listen to, The Indestructibility of the Already Felled will be entirely too much. If you’re someone who finds beauty in melancholy art, you’ll wish this album never ended.