"Caressing the marble and stone."
Coming from the aesthetically peerless n5MD label, it would not have surprised me in the slightest if this album had borne artwork akin to Peter Seville's funereal sleeve concepts for Joy Division. For this surely is consecrated ground we tread? The spectral hush is punctured by sonorous droning and Lilja's hymnal reflections or, to use his own words, "controlled desperation". It feels like permafrost on a mausoleum slab.
Tobias Lilja, a graduate of audio engineering sought to infuse his latest
electronic work with more spontaneity and personality via the inclusion of
lyrics. Yet the resultant effect is provocative rather than warmth. Imagine
Helios arranged by David Sylvian. If 4AD house project, This Mortal Coil, had
continued and evolved to this day, it might have sounded something like this.
'A ruthless beast' a descendent, perhaps, of Come Here My Love?
Like a masterwork of fiction, this is a record that captures the imagination,
pulling the listener into its world - a landscape that might have been conjured
by Ballard or Shelley; Mervyn Peake or TS Eliot. Alternately dark, yet hopeful, Time
Is On My Side is a concept album, whose themes explore choices and
longing while reflecting upon the cost in lost opportunities. At 71 minutes,
this is not for the jog/shuffle as each consecutive piece builds and develops
on those preceding.
Many consider Time as a blank canvas - an optimistic, 'anything-goes' outlook. For others, like Tobias Lilja, the passage of time is felt acutely, like an ever-tightening constraint. As though watching the falling grains in the Reaper's hourglass, Lilja knows that the sand of our lives falls no less steadily from between our own fingers. Can destiny be escaped, or denied? "Am I tied up or am I clinging on?" he questions. Yet if Old Father Time is his chief tormentor, then equally only he can comfort Lilja. And this is the question he poses. For this is no morbid contemplation but rather a hope, a yearning even, that time could be a salvation.
Like death in reverse, Tobias Lilja takes us by the hand and leads us on a journey out of the cold, ivy covered ground, beyond the crumbling necropolis walls and back through the mud and wire of his wasteland. Back to where we lived (or died even?) until we arrive at the staggering Pyromaniac, a moment of such tension and fragility'. Here, with smoke-filled lungs, our very grip on life seems tenuous. Chalk outlines appear through the shadows. Was this the moment? The moment we died?
Time is only truly on the side of the lonely, and this is a lonely place indeed.
Some tracks here (Blood Tracer) can prove almost overwhelming. When
the tension finally snaps, we're treated to one of the climactic pieces of
dub electronica I have ever heard. Beginners Optimism is the title,
and herein lies Tobias Liljas's point. Symbolically giving us back our lives,
he is asking, "what are you going to do with it this time?"
Lilja's slow burning, aching waves of melancholy usher in this years first great album. A unique recording that will haunt our thoughts and dreams long after its looped finale has faded away.