When it comes to the bittersweet, there’s nothing quite like nostalgia. Painfully pleasant, pleasantly painful; a sweet reflection on what’s been before and a bitter realisation of everything that’s been lost. Heavy shit, I know. Beyond making me sound like a pseudo-profound bell-end, though, this little thought-wank seemed like a pretty solid place to start for an article on What We Are: the happy-sad new track from Many Things.
What We Are from Many Things runs the gauntlet of emotions found in nostalgia; regret, yearning and joy. If you’re feeling pensive then listen to it here now!
Scrap that. Let’s start with that title.
There’s a blatant playfulness to it—What We Are -Many Things—and also points, in some way, to the sonic diversity and multiformity of this fresh Brisbane-via-London band. In contrast to their other tracks, What We Are is a down-paced far cry from the bubbly indie-pop of Dear One or Alpha Romeo— the latter of which makes shameless snow-angels in the ashes of Yves Klein Blue.
It’s also one of those song titles that more or less tells you, before you’ve clicked play: things are gonna get kinda deep. They kinda do, but the beauty of this track is that it wrestles with its demons in the very way you’d hope from a song of that title: deeply and prosaically human. What We Are is a meditation on loss, loneliness and memory via boarding calls, PA music and awful pints of Carlsberg.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s backtrack a bit to that fleeting Yves Klein Blue comparison…
It ought to be pointed out that Many Things (MT) is the latest musical manifestation of Yves Klein Blue frontman Michael Tomlinson. It is, decidedly, a new band: new members, new direction. But in many of their tracks you can hear the ghosts of Christmas past stepping in and out of the frame. Of all their songs to date, What We Are has both the most and least to do with Yves Klein Blue. Musically speaking, it’s a very different beast to jangly indie gems like 2008’s Polka. But the concept, the semi-linear collage of anecdotes and ideas at play behind the keys and the vocals, are heavily coloured by a case of the Yves Klein blues, as Tomlinson reflects—nostalgically, you understand— on the life and death of his former band. Mainly the death.
Tomlinson seems to deal with the dissolution of Yves Klein Blue as one might the collapse of a romantic relationship. He grew out his crew cut, hiked it to London and started fucking around with himself and a handful of new musical partners. When asked what it is he’s been up to since that fateful break-up back in 2010, he replies “Oh man. Many Things”. The wounds might have healed in that time, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten “The intense sadness I felt after the end of Yves Klein Blue”.
In this regard, What We Are is a break-up ballad: Tomlinson contemplating his scars and confronting his emotions; lamenting the end of Yves Klein Blue and celebrating “The joy I feel in having found Many Things”. It’s a bittersweet symphony in the key of Brandon Flowers-cum-Lou Reed*. “Would we have never broken up if we knew how hard it was to find a special kind of love?” Tomlinson sullenly ponders, before deciding “There’s no way of knowing”. But this song is all about the valleys and the peaks: “Locked in a basement”, he “Start[s] to come up on a pill”; the melancholy keys rise into a distorted release; and as much as he “Keep[s] reliving [these moments]” of the not-so-peachy past, he concedes with an enlightened kind of inertia “We can’t know where we’re going”.
As Cormac McCarthy said: “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from”. The unfortunate and untimely end of Yves Klein Blue is a tragedy to be grieved, for sure—but if there’s one thing to be thankful for, it’s that out of those ashes rose What We Are: this inspired and outstanding piece of sound. Tomlinson, for one, seems eternally grateful, as the triumphant, Arcade Fire-esque second act sets in and he cheers “What we are is screaming hallelujah”.
It’s a focus on the lighter side of nostalgia: to be thankful for what you had, and even more so for what you have. And that’s the emotional trajectory that this seven-minute crescendo takes: an embittered beginning climbing step by step, plane by plane, toward an oh-so-sweet ending. We can’t know where we’re going.
*you probably can’t get much more bittersweet than Reed’s Perfect Day, after all.
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