Feelings of worth are rare. We desperately cling onto accomplishments and memories as markers of progress. Yet, this sentimental clutter remains only personally significant. The world turns perpetually in frantic disinterest. And ultimately you remain alone.
When dealing with these anxieties, a singer-songwriter is at their best. In moments of frank honesty, a connection is built between a performer and an audience. A shared understanding is established. When on “Soldier’s Things,” Tom Waits bellows “This one’s for bravery / This one’s for me / Everything’s a dollar in this box,” the listener is forced to confront something truly melancholic: sacrifice and a full life will be forgotten. A box of junk can encapsulate an existence. Waits wallows in this misery and bids us to meet it. But solace is found. At least we have the steady voice of Waits.
Not every artist can be so frank. But on his second solo outing, Inner Circles, Dada Plan’s Malcolm Biddle as Malcolm Jack toys with this type of honesty. Throughout the album the listener is lead down corridors of self-doubt and reflection. Jack succeeds in taking his listener to these places through instrumental arrangements reminiscent of Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Destroyer’s Kaputt. In each of these releases, the singer seems ensconced by their backing arrangements, as if by a wreath or a bouquet of flowers. But while Newsom is accompanied by lush strings, and Destroyer backed by nostalgic synths, Jack is surrounded by the swell of new age harp and flute. Inner Circles is a ceaseless homage to the soft-spiritual music of new age prince Paul Horn. Influenced by this, the song of Jack does not simply end. Instead, Inner Circles fades in and out of a constant whirring of zen based wind-instruments. Awash amongst this perpetual drone, Jack’s presence is made more human and immediate.
As a result, his poetic ponderings land abruptly. When Jack crones, “Now you don’t need me at all […] will you even miss me at all?” the listener is thrown into startling intimacy with Jack. The significance of the surrounding clatter fades. Now, we are privy to private dread. Jack invites us to share in his fear of estrangement and isolation. And, as it was with Waits, the listener is bound to view an uncomfortable truth: most things crumble. Life guarantees isolation. But sometimes, we can wallow together.