Themes of loss, heartbreak and obsession make for Kevin Martin and Roger Robinson's bleakest record.
"I can see the lonely in my face," Roger Robinson says with disgust on "The Lonely." His words drip with self-loathing, his distinct baritone curling into a sneer. "When you get this age with no significant other, people treat you like a bad rash." He intones over a creeping string motif from Kevin Martin, AKA The Bug, whose backdrops follow Robinson like a permanently dark cloud. Solitude is described by King Midas Sound—now without Kiki Hitomi—as a "meditation on loss." More specifically, it's a break-up album, released on Valentine's Day, that is among the most vulnerable and unsettling examples of the form. Martin and Robinson cycle through stages of grief, derision, self-hatred and abject loneliness with an honesty that could make you flinch.
Though the group's last album, with Fennesz, experimented with fuzzed-out walls of sound, Solitude brings King Midas Sound back to the ethereal dub of their first LP, Waiting For You..., then pulls the rug out from under it. There's little in the way of rhythm or structure, just chords in a void swallowing up Robinson's words. Martin's palette is reduced to mists of bass, strings and synth, its primary purpose being to contrast and highlight the words in front of it.
Robinson speaks in a matter-of-fact tone devoid of melody. The lyrics are haunting and memorable, from the poetic way he describes a relationship falling apart ("We float through different parts of the house like a chess game") on "You Disappear," to the pathetic way he holds onto a specific memory on "Her Body," like a piece of clothing that still smells of the other person. ("We loved to curl into each other... Our wet tongues drawing maps on our necks, our bodies becoming fluid.")
Solitude doesn't cast its narrator in a sympathetic light, and there's more than just sadness and longing. On "Zeros," disturbing patterns of co-dependency takes shape over a slow-drip loop, as Robinson describes his partner's thoughts as making "a vice-like grip" around him. "I stuck to you because it was better than sticking to nothing," he says. Yearning ferments into bitter jealousy on "Who," where Robinson questions and criticizes his ex. He thinks about what she's eating, wearing, who she's going out with—"I know because I've been watching," he says, on the album's most uncomfortable moment.
Through the lens of its lost relationship, Solitude drifts into powerful themes of existential dread and loneliness. On "Bluebird," Martin's soundscape closes in on Robinson as he outlines the harrowing effects of depression. One of the album's few instances of rhythm appears on "Missing You," but it marches with the weariness of a broken man. Robinson's voice is completely absent, as if he couldn't even muster up the strength to say something.
Given that both Robinson and Martin are happily married, Solitude's stories are unlikely to reflect recent circumstances. (The album was recorded two years ago.) In an interview, Martin said the album might contain more than one narrator, and that you're meant to "draw your own conclusions about the protagonists," suggesting that they "may not be particularly nice people. Maybe they were left for a good reason." It's a testament to Robinson's writing—wrenching, detailed and realistic—that the songs come across as autobiographical.
The album ends on a cruel note with "X." "I am now a part of all your exes / Look at us now, all having pad Thai / And deconstructing all your issues," he says, an image that probes his former lover's perceived insecurities. He then outlines those issues, before reflecting on the other exes he's eating with: "We all get along quite well, far from the monsters I thought they all were... Now I know that the monster is you."
This passage may inspire pity, anger or revulsion. It's in moments like these where you're invited to question whether the narrator is a wounded lover or an abusive, vengeful person lashing out. It's also hard not to consider the feelings or actions of the nameless woman and what she might have gone through at the hands of someone capable of thoughts as twisted and obsessive as these.
Near the end of "X," as everyone prepares to go their separate ways, Robinson says: "I hug them all and to each I whisper softly / 'I still miss her' / And they all whisper back / 'Me too.'" Nothing is as complicated as emotion, and in all the dark corners of the King Midas Sound catalogue nothing has sounded as sinister or hopeless. In a time where the outside world seems increasingly fucked, there's something especially harrowing about how Solitude burrows deep into the self and finds its own kind of horror. There's no clear moral lesson, takeaway or conclusion to Solitude, which simply fades away after its most caustic, heartfelt passage. It returns to the emptiness it came from.
Tracklist01. You Disappear
03. In The Night
04. Too Late
08. The Lonely
10. Missing You
11. Her Body