Life, Death, Damnation, Peace

Life, Death, Damnation, Peace features five tracks and is the 5th solo album from MDH. Each track has an introduction which emerges from the motif before settling into a song in a more conventional form, which leads to an extended outro eventually receding towards and coming to rest on the 5-note motif once again.

The idea came from a proposed solution to the problem of track order. Once the 5 tracks had settled in a definite form, no satisfactory sequence suggested itself, so an idea emerged to have the tracks proceed from the same motivic starting point so that the tracks would flow naturally in any order. Then I would designate this as a “shuffle” album, where people would be encouraged to set their players to play the tracks in a random order and enjoy a slightly different arc for each listen. Attractive as this idea was, once recording was underway a particular track order did become irresistible, so although the plans for the beginning and endings of tracks have endured, “shuffle” play is no longer specifically encouraged. You can do whatever you like of course, if you buy it. The current order outlines a fairly classic thematic journey through life, strife, ending, atonement and repose – and the album title is reference to this.

The Wisdom of John Wayne
At Capacity
The End of World War I
The Man Who Cried in Death
A Hornet

© MDHmusic 2019

released April 4, 2019

All of the music was written and produced by MDH – Michael Humphrey. He plays all of the instruments, except for the violin parts, which were performed with fire and grit by Jennifer Henderson.
Mastering: Ed Woods
Artwork: Alice Frecknall

Life, Death, Damnation, Peace has something of a fairy tale about it, carried through on a dark undercurrent the like the brothers Grimm would be at home with. At times lilting or surprisingly jovial, as in ‘The End of World War I’, at others harsh and discordant, as in ‘The Man Who Cried in Death’, each track unfolds to reveal new layers of musical intricacies, narrative, and emotion.

When creating the artwork for the album cover, I really wanted to work with these ideas of layering and texture that feel so fundamental to the music. This is where the use of collage and mixed media came into play. Similarly, it felt right to juxtapose the abstract landscape and the detailed realistic images that break through the background, drawing inspiration from the way the music and lyrics dip in and out of the surreal.

Each time I listened to the tracks, certain images stood out more and more: the scorpion; the weathervane, branch, and door of ‘The Man Who Cried in Death’; the hornet and the second hand of the clock that feature in ‘The Hornet’. These are the images I began to build up in the artwork. On first seeing the album cover one doesn’t necessarily notice their specific presence, but then each element starts to come through the closer or longer you look. This mirrors my experience of first hearing the album; it wasn’t until I had listened a few times to the music, paying attention to the lyrics and the mix, that I began to notice more and more detail within it.

With each track MDH Music has achieved a unique tone and style and at the same time has created an album that holds together and feels complete as one extended piece. It feels unfair to pick favourites when every track delivers a sound truly of its own with so much rich complexity, but for me ‘At Capacity’ and ‘The Hornet’ have to be the songs that have really got into my head and stuck around, in the best of ways.  

Review by Alice Frecknall

The Wisdom of John Wayne (8:17)

There we were in four corners, my eyes in shadow under my hat, the four of us had never been closer than that
We felt like wild coyotes, we could have just burst with howls and yelps, yet we were struck dumb and beyond help
The heavy iron needle, listing east and north and west, ducking it, chins pinned to our chests
Soon we were on the ceiling, electric anger hanging us high, you gripped me hard enough not to need to say goodbye

And John Wayne said: “Only the man who commands can be blamed, it lands on me: Mission Failed”
But what I think he meant was: “Taking top billing is a big load to bear, I draw the heat so all of you don’t have to care
You just gotta get on with your lives, take your pay cheque back to your wives”
But seein’ as you’re leanin’, let me filter its meaning:
A man will try to carry two loads on his own but he will always spill his cargo all over the road

Holding engaged conversation and fistfuls of beer, still alert, a bullet in the barrel if the flag is unfurled
Bitter red ruination would billow out steady from a razor shave, smooth as the leather that sharpened the blade
There would be no use in explaining, the bullet crack let to the dropping of jaws, the gun went off in the heat of the draw
He couldn’t speak without shaking, ’til no more use in finding words, he wouldn’t utter the tale and risk losing his nerve

And John Wayne said: “No need to make more of it, it just happened to be me; I guess I’m feeling my liquor that was quite a speech”
But what I think he meant was: “On this particular matter I’ve a lot to say, and I don’t expect the ordinary man to wanna stay
It takes a long time for me to get it coherent, there’ll be no judgement if you won’t wait to hear it”
Relinked of all its kinks, the curve of that proverb I think is:
Yes there’s no room for acting in a genre flick, but we ain’t no B-movie so take your time and be cosily epic

He finally said “that woman is poison”, his teeth on show ready to bite, curled lips, scorpion’s tale pinned for the fight
Whispering “that woman is poison”, with all the years cancelled out, he’d added up and knew just what he was talking about
And John Wayne said: “You have two ways of leavin’: immediately or dead; put an amen to it, no more time for praying”

At Capacity (8:01)

Was it the moment the man struck together his palms, moved to make echo the joyful noise of the band and it spread
Hands were wrung red, slapped into pink – did we then toe the brink of capacity?
Right before entering the store seeking notch of complete, buying CDs but not realising the elapsing of all of the albums would need me to live until 90 without sleep to possibly hear all the sides before I would die – that’s capacity sneaking up on me

Toeing the brink of capacity, capacity sneaking up on me
Toeing the brink of capacity sneak- sneaking up on me

He spent so long counting the ombudsman found that anything that couldn’t be counted couldn’t be counted and thus
Thus didn’t count and was therefore compelled to pronounce on return our distended capacity
We were free to speak our minds to people we had never met, we put paid to pressing our dearest possessions to our chests as we were lowered in earth to bequeath and receive and live on in good words, platitudes and apologies
If death coincides with capacity all of this will make a fool of me

Pronounce our distended capacity, capacity making a fool of me
Pronounce our distended capacity make a foo- fool of me

Ears aching, flags all torn in the air, it seemed we would soon all stop pedalling, lean back and spin out the rest of the way there on gravity’s steam, destiny’s slipstream, just up ahead around the next bend in capacity
Was it when we all noticed the lack of a breeze in the trees, buried underneath all of these concrete machines and promptly affixed a fistful of bamboo over the door of our igloo – rattling together in natural parody – that must be us at capacity

Round the next bend in capacity, rattling natural parody
Round the next bend rattle bend- rattle bend- rattle bend in capacity

The End of World War I (8:22)

These feet no longer dent the earth, at ease behind an oak veneer
Attend a comrades footfall firm, and nod along beside his ear

My wife she has a party with the old woman next door, each month that there’s no letter from the Office of the War
She dusts off my tin helmet, kept up from the mines, so it’s ready for some action when I get back from the line

Waiting for eleven, I’ll make the angels wait, postpone my trip to heaven for a dry land dinner date

The latter of these parties, summing four dozen and four, grow rather more dejected than the several before
My boots still in the doorway have stiffened up and cracked as if naughtily predicting that I wasn’t coming back

Waiting for eleven outside the aerodrome, swapped our pass to heaven for one for home sweet home

They sent a copper medal, their thanks for to extend, for on account of me sticking in right up to the end
And it’s that she lies down next to when darkness now descends in place of a dear husband, a breadwinner and friend

Waiting for eleven in a carriage in the woods, to stem the queue for heaven to us sounds bloody good

Bullets fall from yellow air, voices lift from murmured prayer, great army scuttled and victory declared

As my bones sink ‘neath the soil victors stand and make their plans
Survey the acres of their spoils: what for to build on this prize land
Gardens copious with growth, chapels tall with gilded naves
Castles wrapping with glinting moats, condemned red rubble and unmarked graves

The Man Who Cried in Death (8:22)

David loved his wife he found it easy to do, all the love saved for children he spent on Sarah too
She would cry for the babies who never made it to the air, imagine their faces, feel her hands plaiting their hair
David held his tears, set on giving comfort and strength, she would narrow at dry eyes – it didn’t make sense
They continued with dignity, he felt her pulling away, shirking the balm of his arms she couldn’t look him in the face

Late evening after toil of a day David slid his key out of the door
Curtains were drawn, the kettle was cold, one chair was pulled out on the floor
The one chair disturbed from its place, where presumably someone had sat
To write the note found on the hearth telling him she was not coming back
David’s heart like a weather-vane slowed as the night wind suddenly drops
He lowered himself in that kitchen chair and felt his blood starting to clot
The strength and comfort stored up inside was clogging his veins and his cells
And as he as losing consciousness, his sinuses started to swell

When the cops finally found him after 3 or 4 days, stretchered out the body and ambulanced him away
They scissored off his T shirt that was soaked to the skin, laid him out on the table: let the autopsy begin
The source of salt solution – his eyelids blue, though no longer circulation the water still seeped through
The doctors double-bagged the body so no dripping would show when they carried out the coffin and hoisted it below

By next Tuesday David’s end of the graveyard was noticeably waterlogged
And if you got close enough to see the stone was leaning loose in the bog
The night before, late dog-walkers remarked on a rumble from the earth
Loud enough to send birds from the branches – it transpired the double body bog had burst
Next Sunday Sarah, and her new friend Bill, stopped by to visit the church
David’s brother was angry she missed the funeral, he wouldn’t believe her excuse about work
Her friend Bill parked up and waited – he had never met David you see
Sarah said she’d only be a minute and then they’d go home for their tea

Sarah popped in and spoke to the vicar, who waved at the shady south grove
She ventured over precariously, her footing squirted on every stone
’Til with dismay she was nearing submission, but one grey fragment did coyly protrude
It couldn’t be from a fresh burial, but for the sake of final certitude
She planted herself and hanging onto a tree, leant over and started to read
The stone was wet through, but she could just about see if she narrowed her eyes: D A V
As she inspected she noticed the granite was polished and apparently new
A headstone unstained and weeks without rain, a force from beneath gave the ooze

Impulsively she let go of the branch and clutched at the stone in the mire
But digging her heels and shredding her nails she could not bring the slab up any higher
She turned to walk but fell over, her head struck a rock in the ground
Her feet had got stuck in the mud you see, took her balance when she turned around
The grave-plot was sopping like quicksand, yet it hadn’t rained since David’s death
And Sarah could feel herself sinking, and gasping her own final breaths
The vicar was stirred from his wardrobes and strolled out to decipher the fuss
But when he arrived at the doorway, the whole graveyard was all still and hushed

Bill had many questions when he came in from the car: what directions were furnished? Surely she couldn’t get far?
But the vicar cooly and calmly relayed that he quite simply pointed Sarah to where David lay
Yes, she seems to have vanished, yes, I detect your dismay
Disappearances are unusual but this wasn’t the first time that she had run away

A Hornet (9:27)

A hornet will guard its nest with all its best intentions
The condescensions suffered from the rest of us are meaningless because
They cannot hear them, they only see our swiping, spitting mayhem
Actions so aggressive that they mobilise and weaponise themselves

Time is a hornet, banging its bug-eyed head against the round glass pane of the clock high on the wall
The gliding second hand remains in flight despite it all

You’re asking questions to complicate and nuance your perspective
You only know that you can merely hazard at the sewer rat’s ennui
But you’re not discouraged – your questions are meticulously worded
You think a lot on what you’ve got to focus on, pin down and get across

He voice was like a hornet, rattlin’ in his oily throat arrowed at my brow – words I could scarcely deny
But the tone even now it sticks a needle in my eye

Hornets are soldiers – they make their homes by chewing up the landscape
They layer their combs and populate the canopy, the primates flee the trees
We see an army, expendable, invincible battalion
A legion fed on protein that’s too dangerous to live with us in here

Fear is like a hornet, beating its wings to flutter the sheets of the ghosts hovering to my left and right
A mercy bid for holy host for hornets here to smite

When I’ve finished singing I’ll click the mouse and play from the beginning
I’ll pile up all my papers and the coffee cups and mop up all this bile
And go to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of double vision
And know what I have written is a masterpiece, and concede defeat with pride

To lose your hornet, make start to freeze him out, petition his free will – plan a route through thin air and go
Spend some time just sitting still and open your windows