Neither as feted or renowned as contemporaries The Go-Betweens and The Triffids, Peter Milton Walsh and The Apartments have nonetheless been a notable presence in Australian independent music for over four decades. Initially recording for The Go-Betweens’ Able Label in 1979, The Apartments would release their debut album The Evening Visits… And Stays For Years on Rough Trade in the mid-80s, to be followed in 1993 by Drift appearing on New Rose in Europe. This seemed to set a pattern – exacerbated by bereavement at the turn of the century which soured Walsh’s urge to creativity – of long hiatuses between releases.
Yet people always remembered, particularly in France, and over the last decade there’s been a gradual renaissance, with the release of No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal in 2015, and now a seventh Apartments album In And Out Of The Light imminent. The latest line-up is scattered but relatively settled. Bassist Eliot Fish and drummer Nick Allum have been with Walsh for decades, The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams is a regular collaborator, while Natasha Penot and Antoine Chaperon remain from No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal as does flugelhorn and trumpet player Miro Bukovsky.
Grant Mclennan famously commented “Walsh is night, we are day. We’re sun, he’s rain”, and certainly The Apartments have created emotional and searing music drawing comparisons to figures like Alex Chilton circa Third. In And Out Of The Light inhabits a universe of similar intensity though leavened by a maturity and surety ensuring it floats free of any vestige of hysteria.
It comprises eight songs circling and re-circling loss and absence, attempting to make sense of relationships stripped of their substance, of lovers whose presence has somehow been transmuted into absence. These songs of desire for things irretrievably lost are surrounded and cushioned by clouds of melody, washes of harmony, and lyrical contrasts, gathered and organized with craftsman’s precision.
‘Pocketful Of Sunshine’ opens and sets the scene with reflections from a dark evening, Walsh’s almost resigned, regretful recollections of brighter, livelier times, and forlorn hope to revive them, accompanied by gentle sad guitar, then melancholy horn and snatches of supporting vocals introduce snippets of conversation or comment or thinking aloud. The sense of the inevitable in “some fall in love, some fall in loneliness”.
‘Write Your Way Out Of Town’ then suggests a lush Bacharach creation where the lover can dissect the break-up in song but can’t mend it. Abrahams’ piano accompanies Walsh’s exquisite, perhaps deluded, pleading to “write your way out of sorrow” before there’s more horn and the damning (for an author) concession “I don’t know how this ends”.
Of similar tempo is ‘Where You Used To Be’, an acceptance and recognition of loss and dissolution; “there’s a hole in the world where you used to be”; Patsy Cline is momentarily evoked, and the strings and voices elevate. It’s followed by ‘What’s Beauty To Do’, more livelier and energetic appropriate to the challenging tone of “that was your special gift to take something good and make a mess of it”, and yet despite the brighter Californian pop ambience and surf voices it’s still the sense of lost time and the words off that prevail.
Horns open the dramatic ‘Butterfly Kiss’ this almost-contact where still “every memory I have is a danger to me now”; the song contains one extraordinary moment when another world seeps in, a line initially half heard but stopping you dead. Just occasionally, as in “Sandy sings ‘where does the time go’”in ‘We Talked Through Till Dawn’, these echoes from elsewhere insinuate. That song, a one-take recording with Abrahams’ piano accompaniment, plays out as a monologue of mournful recall before the comparative vehemence of ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck About You Anymore’.
The concluding ‘The Fading Light’ could be viewed as a coda, though at six and a half minutes and by some margin the longest track on the record, it is more significant. Yet it carries a sense of settling, and the recognition there is “more behind than up ahead”. The relentless piano, and then horns, emphasize movement through the seasons – a recurring theme since the “running spring” of the album’s first line – without shaking free of that equally recurring intimation of enervation.
With In And Out Of The Light Peter Milton Walsh and his collaborators have created a masterful song cycle where every piece seems in its rightful place and nothing rings hollow. Its lush immediacy, brightness, and intelligence, together with his languid, entrancing baritone, compel attention, but it gives of its real depths only gradually and their revealing is set to bring enduring rewards.
In And Out Of The Light is released on Talitres Records on 18th September