Bells Larsen - Good Grief (Next Door Records)

Bells Larsen – Good Grief (Next Door Records)

Inspired by the tragic loss of their first love, Good Grief is the debut album from Toronto’s (via Montreal) Bells Larsen, an artist mentored by The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman – the two also share a label in Next Door Records. Written over the last five years, Larsen’s intention was to express their lost love’s spirit and in doing so, to try to ’make grief good’; the album’s title should be taken literally.

Larsen has poignantly used old voice recordings to punctuate the album, beginning the whole journey with their lost love asking “Are you ready?”, before the pair sing Sufjan Stevens’ ‘The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us’, entitled here simply ’Wasps’. Larsen explains “There’s a part of me that feels in some way like she’s now asking grown-up me if I’m ‘ready’ to share these songs about grief now”.

‘Tongue Tied’ follows on beautifully from that emotional opener, a tender acoustic-and-vocals, ending with the words ”If I could just know / I would play you a symphony / Meanwhile sit back and smile / enjoy these melodies”, as if to introduce the rest of the record.

It therefore feels a bit like things take off on the next song, the single ’Double Aquarius’, which brings in the full band sound and matches heartrending lyrics with an upbeat melody, it has a lovely uncluttered feel in the vein of Juliana Hatfield or maybe Julia Jacklin, not least since it actually includes the words “The pressure to party is what’s kind of killing me”, which may or may not be a nod to one of the latter’s most celebrated songs.

Don’t make the assumption that this record is a hard listen though – it certainly packs an emotional punch with the lyrics, given the subject matter, but it also manages to bring light in through the clouds and make the album more of a celebration than a mourning. The storytelling draws in the listener, truly there’s no lyrical cliche here, it’s original and clearly from the heart, the brilliant ’Sweater Weather’ which ends with the simple but profound “Oh it’s so easy to lose the good memories”.

‘Say Something’ benefits from some lovely backing vocals and a sublime Summery feel, pairing the airy melody with a lyric including the winning line “The gas lighting is better than fighting’” in its refrain. Co-producer Devarrow features on the epic ‘Atlantic Love / A Long & Distant Wave’ which is the album’s centrepiece, leading nicely into the second half which begins with ’The Geography Of Leaving’ , a touching piece on the passing of time with a delicate and again, uncluttered production.

‘Cara’ is more literal lyrically, lines like “If I knew then what I know now I never would’ve looked away”, surely enough to melt the iciest heart, while a distant organ swirls around the background. ‘People Who Mean So Much To Me’ deals with the impact that strangers can have on a person’s life, as ever the words are full of humanity and empathy, whether speaking of the old man who lost his memory, or the kid who asked for some advice on coming out to his mom.

The album ends as it started, a voice memo recording reprise of ’Wasps’. I’m not sure if Sufjan Stevens is aware of this album, but as an artist who dealt with grief so beautifully in his own way, (with the tribute to his mother, via his 2015 album Carrie and Lowell), I think he would be proud to have inspired this life-affirming record.

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