What does it mean to get emotional? How diverse is the palette of human emotions? How much support a hug extended by music can give? I asked myself all these questions while listening to When Saints Go Machine‘s new album “Emotional”. The songs delivered some answers but mostly left me in a contemplative state, searching for acknowledgement for my feelings within. That is the greatest power of this record.
“Emotional” is an LP with its own soul. The moment you press play, you almost forget that this is When Saints Go Machine. It feels like an independent piece of art, without a creator, just a spiritual construct that appeared in music. You are drawn to it, invisibly forced by it to contemplate everything that is non-material and transcendent.
Musically, the Danes mix hop-hop influences with pop, electronic and classical instruments (the distant piano in “When Did Summer End” is magical). As always, When Saints Go Machine take all the pieces that inspire them, and put them together in a unique way which is surprising while still somewhat familiar. The beats on the album are deep and slow. The melodies gently flow through your fingers; listening to them feels like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands. The sound is as clean and gentle as it is mystical and often sort of hidden, emerging from a shadow or mist. When Saints Go Machine don’t hurry, make a lot of room for vocals as well as for silence. “Emotional” is not a noisy album but it says a lot with its relaxed, loose structure. The songs’ many layers melt into one perfectly, leaving you endlessly discovering new bits and pieces. My highlight is the elegant use of classic piano which masterfully underlines key elements of the album. Try listening with a set of good headphones to truly discover the power of the sounds on “Emotional”.
Lyrically, “Emotional” is full of bittersweet stories and messages. After all, not all emotions are comforting, and When Saints Go Machine address many of the unpleasant ones. A lot of heartache, disappointment, sadness and honest looks at the past are locked in the title track, “Seized the Light” and “A Tomb Without You”. My heart ached when I heard the line “So simple a lie / I realised I’m dead inside / We had it all / Turn to wings that won’t fly”. It made me think of my own wasted chances at love and feelings that burned in the sun like Icarus after flying too high too fast.
But as it often is with Scandinavian melancholia, there is a light shining through the sadness. A light or a ray of persistence and strength to move on against all pain of the past. When listening to “Unbroken”, I realised that we are stronger than we think and can survive a lot. “You want it all back and you’re so good with words about / What time will heal and I cling to every breath / Unfair you don’t tell why need me now / But, I’m / Unbroken / You don’t get to see me drown”. Haven’t we all said some variation of these words in our lives? And, against all odds, got back on that horse called love and rode into the sunset with someone new and special?
There are so many points on the “Emotional” LP where I had to pause a song to realise — this is about my experience. Or — I couldn’t find a way to put my emotions into words and here they did it! It is cliché to say that music can express what a thousand words can’t. With “Emotional”, When Saints Go Machine breathe new life into that cliché. At the same time, they do an impossible and contradictory thing. You can hear that it is their album, and you can feel how intimate and personal the songs are.
“Emotional” ends with what is shaping to be one of my all-time favourite songs, “Not Everyone Walks Away”. Its little background sounds bring the band’s 2011 “Konkylie” LP to mind. The song goes from a gentle, organic piano start to a hit of deep and strong vocals, then into almost silence. Like the most comforting hug,”Not Everyone Walks Away” made me shed a tear, and smile in the end. Again, it may be cliché to say that the album goes through sadness, despair and heartache, but ends, like a Hollywood movie, with a happy ending. And again, When Saints Go Machine turn this cliché into something breathtaking, real and extremely uplifting. “The second we found love / they wouldn’t break us,” the album’s closing line concludes.
I hope that nothing will ever break When Saints Go Machine. Years go by, and they keep creating wonderful, mesmerizing, powerful albums. May they continue to do so for a long time. We all need music that makes us smile, music that makes us cry, and music that hugs us when we need it.