August 13, 2017

Heinali and Matt Finney - How We Lived

By Craig Hayes. My mental health has taken me to some exceptionally dark places over the years. Most notably when taking my own life seemed like the only option I had left. I’ve always been conscious that killing myself would destroy my family
By Craig Hayes.

My mental health has taken me to some exceptionally dark places over the years. Most notably when taking my own life seemed like the only option I had left. I’ve always been conscious that killing myself would destroy my family, and possibly irk the few friends I have left in this world. But there’s a good reason they call it mental illness.

Being mentally unwell often leads me to believe that my absence would hurt less than my continued presence –– for all concerned. But I’m not telling you this because I’m trying to be dramatic or elicit any sympathy. Many of us have moments in our lives where the void beckons, and trying to stitch together a broken mind and disordered life in the midst of emotional chaos is a relevant issue right here.

I was 9 years old when I saw my first psychiatrist: 37 years later I’m still fighting to survive. What I’m looking for most is understanding. What I want is to have my self-loathing exorcised. I know I’m not alone in desiring either of those things. And that’s exactly what Heinali and Matt Finney’s new album, How We Lived, provides.

Matt Finney is a spoken word poet, and the Alabama-based storyteller speaks to the lost, betrayed, and forgotten. Finney articulates things we find hard to admit, let alone share. And, as I’ve said before, Finney is no stranger to demons; he is here, with his battered heart in hand, to underscore that life is a hard-fought battle sometimes.

I first encountered Finney via his collaborations with Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Oleg Shpudeiko –– aka Heinali. Heinali and Finney’s recordings in the early 2010s were defined by dark prose swathed in often lush avant-garde electronics. The duo’s sprawling tracks featured a heavy, cinematic ambience framed by frequently gorgeous atmospherics, and with (highly recommended) releases like Ain’t No Right and Conjoined, Heinali and Finney drew fans from all quarters.

How We Lived is Heinali and Finney’s first collaboration since 2011. But Finney has worked with other artists over the years. His collaborations with prolific dutch musician Maurice de Jong (Gnaw Their Tongues, Seirom etc), under the It Only Gets Worse banner, are also dramatic and soul-stirring. But with due respect to de Jong, Finney’s work with Heinali set a benchmark that has yet to be bettered.

There’s a world-weary tale behind How We Lived’s creation, and it’s a story worth telling, because it shapes and informs the entire album. After Ain’t No Right’s release, Finney’s life began to fall apart, and following family illness, deaths, and a few creative catastrophes, Finney retreated to a backwoods trailer, where he ceased writing, and sought escape in drugs and alcohol.

It was partly the realisation that his work with Heinali had played such a crucial role in his creative life that Finney was able to slowly find his way back –– both artistically and personally. And How We Lived certainly highlights that tension between the drive to create and the desire to utterly destroy oneself.

How We Lived’s four lengthy songs feature some of most emotionally charged and powerfully affecting work that Heinali and Finney have ever produced. “Relationship Goals”, “Wilderness”, “October Light” and “Perfect Blue” deliver stunning (and often harrowing) narratives, which Heinali frames with evocative music. But here’s the difficult part.

At this point, I’d generally begin to unpack an album’s songs. I would slice ’em and dice ’em, and endeavour to describe their ingredients. But I’m not going to do that with How We Lived’s tracks.

That’s not because those songs aren’t worth the effort; as I said, How We Lived is Heinali and Finney’s most meaningful collaboration yet. But I don’t want to reveal the album’s specifics, because I want you to hear those songs free from my (or anyone’s) influence or interpretations.

In other words, How We Lived needs to be experienced, not explained.

I understand that might not be what you’re looking for here. That’s okay –– I’m sure dozens of other reviewers will pick apart How We Lived with due precision. I just think that it’s an intimate album that deserves to experienced as a whole, free from spoilers or prior dissection.

I will say this though: How We Lived is a haunting piece of art that evokes decaying landscapes –– both psychological and geographic. It delivers harsh truths, plumbed from suffering and bitterness, and cognizance arises from moments of anguish.

How We Lived reminds us that when life falls apart our minds and bodies don’t attack on a single front. They gnaw and they claw at us, insidiously. They tear into different anxieties, from entirely different angles. Until slowly, but surely, those emotional ramparts we’ve so carefully constructed begin to crumble.

Potential remedies are available, should you find yourself in that situation, and there are often opportunities to seek help along the way. I’d encourage you to take full advantage of both, if you’re feeling like your walls are collapsing. But How We Lived also exists as a means to shore up your defences.

I’m not so naive to suggest that listening to How We Lived is going save to your life. It’s not a miracle cure. But it’s certainly a crucial restorative. You will find solace in the album because it acknowledges (with brutal honesty) that life fucking hurts.

Sometimes, the shared admission of that fact is all we need to make it through another day. And there’s no question that How We Lived reaches out from the depths of despair to say: “I hear you. I understand”.

In doing so, How We Lived illustrates why listening to dark art created by troubled souls is so important to our own continued existence. The album resonates deeply, providing vital catharsis, and while it’s unquestionably bleak, it’s also beautifully grim.

How We Lived lets us know that we are not alone. It helps strengthen our resolve to fight on –– until we step out of darkness.

Misery has never sounded so uplifting. Or so emboldening.

1 comment:
  1. This is amazing stuff. I am too passive and fatalistic to be this depressed, but it must say something about myself that I find the music and its tones so...appealing.