In 2017, midway through promoting his debut album ‘Wanting’, Harp Samuels received the news that his father had passed away. Returning home to Melbourne (he has dual citizenship of Australia and New Zealand), be began to channel his grief and confusion into his art. Initially planning to produce a short film and the accompanying soundtrack for it, as work progressed the soundtrack gradually blossomed in scope and importance to the point of eventually overshadowing the film it had been conceived to accompany.
It was this soundtrack that evolved into Samuels’ upcoming album ‘Breathe’, to be released on the 14th of September. The seismic rupture with the past of his father’s death was mirrored in a striking left turn musically—drifting away from the sparse folk of ‘Wanting’, ‘Breathe’ incorporates influences from ambient and electronic music, with vocoder and synthesiser beginning to seep into the sound. The results are often homespun choral music, the celestial tones paralleling the churchyards and funeral parlours death forces one into, and the incorporation of distorted sounds expressing “the tension involved with grief and change”, in Samuels’ own words.
Mixed with analogue gear in Melbourne’s Sing Studios, the album nonetheless journeys away from the tangibility of acoustic instruments into more opaque and ambiguous musical and moral territory. This push and pull of the intimate and the infinite is captured in “Closure in C”, a song recorded on the piano owned by Samuels’ father, before it was sold. In time hopefully Samuels will find this closure, but for now he has a desolate and emotionally rich album to offer.
Words: Callum Oliver