If music has taught me anything since my angst-riddled teens, it is that you are rewarded when you embrace what is beyond your familiar; seek out the different and new, because you will sometimes find gold. Active Child (real name Patrick Grossi) has spent the best part of the past ten years pursuing this alchemical ideal with the creation his music, and the fruits of his latest labours show a great deal of progression since the Sun Rooms cassette released back in 2010.
There is an immediate and rich warmth to first track “In Another Life”, as the album of the same name stirs and stretches into existence. Strings rise and fall like the first conscious breaths of the day, and Grossi’s sweetly enticing voice carries a fluttering hint of Bon Iver – that is, until his delivery opens up with the rest of the song. Enriching the strings are electronic flourishes coaxed in by the heartbeat-style kick drum, giving way to a beat that caught me off guard without at all feeling out of place.
“All Eyes on You” portrays a piano-driven delight that tantalises with smooth R’n’B vibes. It’s our first real taste of the winning combination Active Child expels: evocative lyrics, lingering piano, smartly-employed strings for a classic sound, electronic percussion and ambience for modernity. It’s a marrying of past, present, and future sounds that just works. Speaking of which, the echoey haze of “Set Me Free” works wonders – a perfectly-balanced summer vibe that kept pulling me back time and again, but I’m loathe to deconstruct it entirely when you could – and should – discover its warmth for yourself.
At this point, I must mention that the musical arrangement on In Another Life is phenomenal, but is also both matched and bolstered by Grossi’s falsetto vocals. Haunting whispers one moment, stratospheric wistfulness the next, and full-bodied melodic charisma after that. There’s also close harmony on a large portion of the vocals throughout, with additional voices used to evoke notions of the ethereal; sometimes in a way that’s almost gospel (see “All Eyes on You”). This should be unsurprising, given that Active Child‘s music has always been a marrying of Grossi’s youthful choir days and the musical broadening of his adult years.
Over the course of “Color Me”, “Gaze Will Cast a Shadow”, and “Spirit Buoy”, we are treated to a haunting, pensive trio. It’s all here: eerie violin use, distorted whispers, simplistic synth phrasings alongside a reverb-addled beat, and not forgetting our first substantial taste of Grossi’s full-bodied and expressive harp playing which works hard in a strong ensemble to steal the show. These elements play an enormous role in building a lingering unease that conveys regret and intrigue across this portion of the album; each track both poetic and painful in its appeal, standing out from the largely positive offerings they sit nestled between.
This positivity extends far beyond the music, seeping into the crevices of Grossi’s lyrics. In the midst of world events, there’s an enormous and well-documented global effort to raise the morale of mankind and instill optimism. In Another Life contributes to this goal in vast quantities. To quote a small selection:
‘Lean on me/And I will give/All that I’ve got’ (“Set Me Free”)
‘Love one another/Help your brother/Lean on each other/Brighter day’ (“Brighter Day”)
‘I dedicate my life to something richer/And all the things that come/’Cause that’s no price at all’ (“Cruel World”)
As morsels of written word, they’re endearing enough, but combined with the power of Grossi’s composition, they take on a whole new identity.
“Painted Staircase” is wonderful. It has a strikingly cinematic sound to it. With the staircase leading both up and down, the ever-shifting landscape is played out as a self-contained tale, charting what feels like a beginning, middle, and seemingly unfortunate ending. These are all seamlessly linked together through the same powerful string and voice combination that gives an incredible account of itself throughout In Another Life‘s entirety, right up to the closing moments of “Cruel World” – a track with a video released two years ago, as a subtle indication of the time Grossi has spent pouring into this album.
Chances are, those whose musical preferences leave them less inclined to give this album a listen stopped reading a few paragraphs ago – somewhere around the mention of harps and falsetto. And that’s totally okay. This is not a record that all will appreciate, but it is a record that all can appreciate. If you’re still reading, Active Child serves up a wonderful opportunity to embrace a standout musical entity designed to soak in. My inclination is generally towards thrashing guitars, crashing cymbals, and shattering growls, but the loftiness and unavoidable serenity of this album is remarkably refreshing. In Another Life makes me incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to wait for one to enjoy it myself.