Late last year I came upon an album entitled The Chiasmus, on the SRA label. Knowing nothing about the artist, it would have been easy to mistake him for an established musician, so accomplished were it its huge drone-based soundscapes – but it was in fact the impressive debut release from the young musician Nicholas Szczepanik. With suitably youthful energy, his new release Dear Dad, has scampered forth rather more quickly than I’d have expected, and is a searingly emotional reflection on his younger life.
When he was a boy, Szczepanik’s father asked him to write him a letter, something he found confusing and which he never complied with at the time. Some years later, he has composed a musical response to that request. It is rare to find an example of this sort of music which has such explicit meaning, and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to extricate that backstory from the listening experience. The track titles don’t help in this regard; with a piece entitled “When I’m No Longer Afraid Of You” you can already begin to imagine the depth of the feelings involved here. The album starts with a “where do I start” near-silence, but once Szczepanik gets the first word out, he unlocks a torrent of emotion. Warm, gentle high-pitched tones are gradually obliterated by layers of granulated instrumentation; it feels like an outpouring of long-repressed anger. Ten minutes it, the mood becomes noticeably darker, by the fifteen minute mark I found it quite disquieting, and by the twenty minute mark I was completely overwhelmed. But the track keeps on going for a full thirty seven minutes. During the last few of those, a deep and unsteady pulse emerges, like the first deep, shaky intakes of breath after a prolonged period of weeping. The shorter coda piece “Forgive To Forget” thankfully hints at the possibility of redemption, a stoic calm gradually giving way to some uplifting synth melodies.
While colluding with something so very private is at times rather uncomfortable, the undeniable strength of feeling involved makes Dear Dad an unforgettable listening experience. Heaven knows what his dad will make of it.