Sons Of Magdalene: Move To Pain

Though each of us wrestles with personal and professional challenges, Joshua Eustis has dealt with more than his share: not only was his father diagnosed with cancer in 2007, but he also had to contend with the January 2009 death of his long-time Telefon Tel Aviv partner and childhood friend Charlie Cooper. The news about his father prompted a number of responses from Eustis, one of which was to compose music of a kind far different from what he had produced before. The initial experiments that would eventually appear under the Sons Of Magdalene name were tape loop manipulations of orchestral music recorded at Loyola University in early 2005 (presumably some originating version of which comprises Move to Pain's second half in the form of an untitled long-form instrumental), though Eustis would go on to produce electropop songs, too.

Upon hearing the early versions of those songs, Cooper envisioned them as a starting point for what would have been the next Telefon Tel Aviv release. His death obviously necessitated a change in plan, which led Eustis to first hold on to the material as he pondered his next move and then produce additional material between 2009 and late 2010. Reluctant to release the tentatively completed album because of its intensely personal nature, Eustis held on to it for years before finally deciding to unburden himself and ready it for public consumption, which he did after some late-2013 tweaking and content additions.

For an album that takes as its themes loss, decay, and emptiness and includes songs with titles such as “Bitter Soliloquy” and “O Death,” one might expect Move To Pain to sound morose and be a rather tough slog. But, surprisingly, its tone is often upbeat, its electropop songs more buoyant in spirit than one would have expected. The incongruity between the positive tone of the music and the dark content of the lyrics is never more pronounced than during “A Strange Sound,” a bright synth-pop song that opens with the words “Momma, don't look so sad / He didn't leave you / Just went to a new place.”

For whatever reason, Eustis has opted (in its first half, that is) for an ‘80s synth-pop style whose feathery vocal melodies are powered by claps and programmed beats (supplemented with syndrums). Believe it or not, the opening song “Hold On Hold Still For A Second” doesn't sound all that far removed from the kind of stuff bands like A-ha and ABC put out decades ago. The album includes synthesizer-drenched instrumentals (“Bitter Soliloquy,” “Unfortunate Phone Call”) and synth-funk workouts (“The Whip,” “Move To Pain”), and distant echoes of Afrika Bambaataa's “Planet Rock” and Herbie Hancock's “Rockit” surface at moments (see “Can't Won't Don't Want To”). Chronologically, it would have made sense for the untitled piece to be sequenced first, though on listening grounds it's better that it's positioned last. Something of a curiosity, it's a vaporous setting whose winds blow gently for thirty-five minutes in a way that suggests the ambient drone of an overhead plane. It would be hard to think of another release as stylistically bifurcated as this one.

Needless to say, Move To Pain is light years removed from the sound of a classic Telefon Tel Aviv album such as 2004's Map of What Is Effortless, even if one can detect some degree of melodic commonality. To these ears, Move to Pain sounds like the work of someone trying to figure out who he is and where he's going, and though perhaps too much shouldn't be read into the diametric contrast between the pop material and the untitled piece, the dramatic difference can't help but suggest a searching quality on its creator's part regarding Sons Of Magdalene's identity. As presented, Eustis's project very much gives the impression of being a work-in-progress.

July 2014