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Graeme Martin and Liam Karima made the new pet deaths album to be both explored and sat with. In age of dull disconnection and constant refreshing, unhappy ending, the London duo’s second full-length effort, was deliberately and acutely considered to be a journey of its own; nine new songs but one whole immersive piece for the listener to climb inside, in the quiet of reflection, in the sobering commute to and from.
Released this Spring, and following on from the sparkling celestial folk of the band’s 2019 debut To the Top of the Hill, unhappy ending is the next step in pet deaths’ somewhat remarkable journey. The pair met accidentally when Liam was sitting on his doorstep feeling deflated late one night, before he noticed a “heavy Geordie accent strutting down the grove, smoking and whistling the guitar lick from Sultans Of Swing”. Graeme appeared from the shadows and the pair quickly realised that they’d known each other years earlier when they’d both played on the pub circuit. They caught up on each other’s lives, sharing stories from the old days, and by the time the birds started singing they were making drone noises and poetry together – and pet deaths was born.
Setting out to make their new album, the band had one question in the forefront of their collective mind: Is life an unhappy ending, or do we become part of a bigger movement to more positive things? Across the album’s nine tracks, this conundrum is explored in many and meaningful ways, their subtle take on melancholic folk-pop conjuring a bewitching atmosphere that hangs over every inch of the album. “We were powering through the entire back catalog of Twin Peaks at the time of recording,” Liam says of that side of the album’s sound. “I think that played a big influence in the surreal parts of the record.”
unhappy ending became a labour of love for pet deaths, many of the songs initially written during the same sessions that sparked their debut album. Initially, the band’s original concept for the record was to have a wild string arrangement running throughout, like a Disney film with a touch of Scott Walker, but as time went by it evolved into the free-jazz-rock art piece that we hear today.
This journey took place over the course of four years, their initial ideas – recorded at a residential studio in Abingdon, Oxfordshire which they used as a retreat from the business of London – fleshed-out and toyed with over time with their acclaimed producer Ian Davenport (Slowdive, Gaz Coombes, Radiohead’s Philip Selway) who encouraged Graeme and Liam to lean into the wilder parts of their creativity.
Inspired, musically, by the spiritual moments of Alice Coltrane, the freeness of Miles’ ‘Bitches Brew’, with a sprinkling of Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit Of Eden’ in its colourful unraveling, unhappy ending is an enveloping experience, touching upon universal themes but all shone through the lens of Liam’s signature perspective. Opening track – and lead single – ‘all the things you said you were’ is a message to the afterlife, a letter to a lost soul, its words written on a reflective walk Liam took through Dalston along a small river, “where ducks procreate and kids sell drugs. I thought about Virginia Woolf, I thought about my friend, I thought about Sylvia Plath,” he adds.
Plath and Woolf aren’t the only direct inspirations to the lyrical themes running through unhappy ending, the band also cite the art of Francis Bacon as a major influence on the words and the mood of the record, as well as the photography of Man Ray and the films of Bergman and David Lynch; all the many pathways to explore that aforementioned question which sits at the album’s core.
The swirling ‘swingtime’ showcases the band’s ability to juxtapose this deep dive of discovery with the brightness of the music. A beautiful five minutes, the song feels like a daydream, a memory you can’t quite hold of – “Hindsight is true fuckery, it’s our last waltz, and curtains for you and me baby,” Liam sings – while the music paints an almost psychedelic journey, the layering of the instrumentation indicative of the band’s desire to push these songs to their most colourful form. Elsewhere, ‘don’t die on me now (loser)’ feels more reflective of the album’s darker heart, the rawness of the lyrics paired with the song’s production evoking the spellbinding, hypnotic spirit of Faust before breaking out into a Wild Beasts-esque surge of off-kilter exuberance.
Further proof of pet deaths’ unique sense of melancholia, unhappy ending thrives within the world it creates for itself, one of distinctive colours and shapes that feel intimate and familiar but always slightly off-kilter, as if you’ve momentarily stepped into someone else’s dream. It sings of love and loss and the unwieldy connection between those two things, in ways that feel quietly radiant and beguiling, caught in an alluring contrast. As Liam sings on the album’s penultimate track: “Unhappy endings is where I found my love, where I lost my love.”
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