Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Josh Kroehn – Ben Howard, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ (2014)
Dear ‘I Forgot Where We Were’,
You have become one of the most perpetual listening experiences in my life. It was quite literally the soundtrack to my everyday existence through 2017, when I only first started getting into Ben Howard’s music. Prior to discovering you, I had never heard a singer-songwriter album with the same level of sheer emotive purpose in not only its lyrical content but the compositional elements, particularly Ben’s virtuosic guitar playing.
Featuring multiple alternate tunings, partial capo placements, effects, electric guitars, acoustics running through valve amps and a unique fingerstyle playing technique, Ben’s playing inspired me to be more inventive and creative with the guitar. Without you, I wouldn’t be the same guitar player I am now, and there has been no greater influence on my guitar playing technique.
You show just how versatile the guitar is as an instrument. The opening track ‘Small Things’ is one of the greatest examples of this, and sets the tone perfectly as an opener, especially when contrasted with Ben’s debut Every Kingdom. A prominent delay setting with the unique timbre of an acoustic running through a valve amp, backs up Ben’s self-reflective and frustrated observations. It all comes to a huge crescendo with delayed guitar harmonics, chaotic drums and e-bows creating an explosion of sounds that further highlight the abrasive bitterness and anger that Ben develops towards your emotional peak.
This development is led by the title track, which is a song that always leaves me paralysed in a deep state of reflection. The title track’s vocal melodies and the sheer beauty of the overdriven electric guitar riffs and how they interact with the percussion, really do transport the listener back to a time that they had perhaps forgotten about in a painful yet peaceful sense of nostalgia. However, the three-track run of ‘Time Is Dancing’, ‘Evergreen’ and ‘End Of The Affair’ is where this emotional peak arises, as all three tracks seem to detail the breakdown of a relationship.
‘Time Is Dancing’ is an ice-cold, hypnotic masterpiece that I interpret as a self-critiquing moment for Ben, followed by the spacey and equally cold ‘Evergreen’ that perfectly leads into the devastating climax that is ‘End Of The Affair’. Ben’s vocal delivery and guitar playing on this song are simply harrowing, detailing the great pain Ben is experiencing. At 6:10 Ben yells “and what of him? What the hell love?” Drenched in reverb and delay, Ben’s sheer anger and sadness is all laid bare with no apologies and the band comes back in with one of the heaviest hitting crescendos I’ve experienced.
You can be dense and challenging, but if the climax of ‘End Of The Affair’ clicks, Ben Howard’s compositional prowess will be awe-inspiring to the listener. You’re a record that has certainly left its mark on me, not only as an artist but as a person.