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.
bambi (aka Dominic Simper) – ABBA, ‘The Visitors’ (1981)
I had a strange relationship with ABBA growing up. They were always this slightly kitsch pop culture relic from the ’70s – mainly associated with Eurovision and bad fashion (this wasn’t helped by the fact that any time either 60 Minutes or Today Tonight ran an advertisement for a story even peripherally related to the economy they would use ‘Money, Money, Money’ as the music cue). It was definitely acceptable to like ABBA – but only on the condition that this admission was accompanied with appropriate lashings of irony.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, stumbling upon ‘The Day Before You Came’ on a playlist, that I was able to shake off these lingering associations from my youth. I was entranced by the clean hypnotic beat, the swirling minor key synths and the slow burn arrangement. The production sounded years, if not decades, ahead of its time. It was dark, detached and ethereal. Mystery shrouded the protagonist and her recollection of her seemingly mundane day – why is there such an overbearing sensation of dread enveloping the song? From that moment I dove headfirst into their discography – starting with the album from which ‘TDBYC’ appears as a bonus track – The Visitors.
Widely considered as ABBA’s break up album (both of the married couples of which ABBA was composed had separated leading into the recording sessions), The Visitors is a deeply reflective and melancholic meditation on time and its constantly shifting interplay with the way in we interpret our lives and our relationships. It delves honestly into the murky fallout that we find on the other side of a failed relationship. It’s messy in parts (‘One of Us’), but only in the sense that we are all a touch messy as we work our way into and through adulthood – picking up and processing emotional scars along the way, and perhaps most regrettably, dealing them out to others.
It also captures the complete sense of powerlessness we have as the moments that we yearn to hold onto dissipate before our eyes – as witnessed through the eyes of a parent as her daughter prepares for school on ‘Slipping Through my Fingers’ (“Sleep in our eyes, her and me at the breakfast table/ Barely awake, I let precious time go by/ Then when she’s gone there’s that odd melancholy feeling/ And a sense of guilt I can’t deny”).
In terms of production, for what is essentially a synth-driven album, The Visitors is incredibly dense, layered and meticulously crafted. The arrangements, the voice-leading, the orchestration of the synth parts and the variety of textures creates a lush yet sombre palette which has long been aspirational for me. (Special mention must be given to ABBA’s largely unheralded go-to rhythm section of Ola Brunkert and Rutger Gunnarsson, and engineer, Michael B. Tretow, whom collectively and individually had a profound impact on the ABBA sound).
The Visitors is by no means a perfect record. Like all of ABBA’s studio output, it has its share of filler (it being of no small coincidence that, by far their most popular and consistent album is their best of, ABBA GOLD). That, however, doesn’t detract from the fact that, at its best, The Visitors teaches us that we can strive to navigate through adulthood’s quandaries with courage, dignity and vulnerability.
bambi, aka Dominic Simper, (also a touring member of Tame Impala) released his debut EP ‘unfolding’ this past Friday via Spinning Top Records. Listen here.