The Comfort – What It Is To Be (Review)

Since the release of their EP Love in 2016, The Comfort have been on a journey as a band and as individuals. They’ve come up against serious personal barriers, and because of this, have needed to take bold steps in different directions to what they’d previously known. This has led to shifts in perspective and understanding for The Comfort, and has shown up in their creations too. As vocalist and guitarist Liam Holmes shared in our recent interview ‘Everything you get through us and everything we say is through the lyrics and our songs’.  The music speaks for The Comfort, and this includes their debut album What It Is To Be.

From the first song of the album, the Brisbane based band are giving insights to personal turmoil. Soul-searching “Heavy Heart” has a clean and atmospherically beautiful sound, but also reveals discomfort with distortion and a subtle clock-ticking urgency sense of time passing and chances being lost. It’s a lighter offering and more bouncy at times than you’d expect from its title, and I understand this to be because of the determined hope that threads through it. I’d felt at first that the introduction was far too long, but after becoming well acquainted with the track, I love the unspoken scene-setting that it provides. And also in learning from the band about their penchant for ‘old school’ listening of albums from start to finish, the first track is an important one.

Starting with one of my favourite lyrics of the album, “I told myself I liked being alone but I lied”, “Heavy Heart” seems to share Liam’s experience of travelling to Peru and using psychedelic plant medicine; specifically the sense of fighting for it to work for him. [Seriously, catch the interview about this if you haven’t yet – it’s fascinating.] He’d hit ‘last resort’ levels with his mental health, and hoped for the ayahuasca to be a cure from the dark that ‘pushes and pulls’.

Aching guitar throughout “Heavy Heart” beautifully reflects an inner state of emotionally and mentally bleeding, while also seeing the negative impact on loved ones. On a low day, this idea of an internal struggle and also trying to contain it from ‘infecting’ others inspires tears with its relatability. The track lays out the swallowing of responsibility with honesty, and pulls this determination to be free into a vocally distorted/subdued bridge, and the chorus seems custom designed to remain firmly in one’s head. This catchier, hookier, more hopeful, and ethereal version of The Comfort goes down smoothly.

Flowing into “Dissolve”, it’s much like the fallout of the ayahuasca; where Liam sings of finding his place “at the gate to the stars where we sit and wonder what we are”, and shares higher perspective/higher consciousness questions. He wrote it when he was in Peru for the second time, saying he was wondering “What am I really? And can I kind of attain a higher state and come back to that more permanently?” and “just trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the universe.”

I fell in love with “Dissolve” as a single and it’s a weightier track while also carrying the same ethereal vibe. As I wrote when it was released, the synth sparkled track takes us to a contemplative state of observation; watching ourselves from a distance and questioning the bigger picture that’s going on for us souls existing in human life. The combination of chiming notes and grounding bass crafts a really comforting scene along with this out-of-body questioning that really felt like a beautiful ‘home’ to me as a listener who also often asks herself these questions.

“Dissolve” is lyrically poignant, and touches on purpose and whether we’re undergoing lessons, or individually creating our reality. Most potent for me was the third verse (“Maybe we’re born to be endless. I’m drowning in colour in the darkness. What’s the point of my body but to disrupt my permanence?”) which seemed to lean into frustration at being contained within human form, instead of allowed to be as ‘endless’ as we could be, and ‘dissolve into it all’. And even with that repeated chorus (“I want to dissolve into it all”), I had felt like it had been deliberately left ambiguous as to whether dissolving meant fully embracing everything in our lives as they are, or existing as nothing but light.

 

The album’s third track “Misery” has recently been released as a single and music video (filmed and edited by Nick Hargans). This was a key piece of music for me on the album that very early on had me seek to understand The Comfort’s inspirations more, before I’d interviewed them. I wanted to know more about their choice of wording relating to “the light inside my chest” as well as referring to The Mother.

“Misery” lyrically explores this containment of mental illness where nothing can be seen (or felt) outside of it and needing something else. It also talks about the distance between how someone is and “the lives we’re meant to lead”. The velvety tone of Liam’s voice works brilliantly in expressing something relatively sombre and monotone at the choruses before the more impassioned cries at the chorus, coupled in with Dominic’s strong voice. It’s easy to feel the heartfelt pleas for change that ooze, let alone the hefty ultimatum for survival in ‘You don’t want to leave this life, but you know that you can’t stay’. Ouch.

“Misery” was a song that established itself firmly in my head early on, begging for repeat listens. I have a lot of affection for a good chorus and The Comfort nail it. I’m also adoring the layers and harmonies of this track, and Dominic’s work on bass is a stand-out for my ears.

 

“Reach Out” has Dominic take the lead vocally (as well as lyrically). An echoing multi-layered melodic introduction paints an affectionate feeling and weight of concern, that we soon learn relates to care for another. Both warm and focused at the verses, courtesy of the whole band combined, “Reach Out” also includes ethereal synth effects and echoing to reflect the memories of the history of the two together.  The beautiful track reflects how a lover or friend experiences the struggle of their mate; moving between their own emotions about the situation and also observing the other’s state and wanting to share the weight with them.

“You were my light”

Shifting into anticipation courtesy of strings after “Reach Out”, “Futures” guitar intro is surprisingly positive. The track as a whole took me a little time to figure out what was happening, because it speaks like it’s a breakup song, while also being heart-swellingly hopeful. Dominic described it in our interview as ‘people watching’, and acting like an observer within a relationship, while being aware and accepting of what is changing or happening.

“Futures” has become a favourite of mine. Its steady pace and bass line, Liam’s velvety voice, the many intertwined layers, while also knowing that the song is about an ending, is all exceptionally moving to me (that’s code for ‘it makes me cry’). Slowly, slowly, we’re led toward an ultimate point of separation, while at the same time being immersed in something exceptionally ethereal, calm, and compassionate. Effects are used brilliantly with “Futures”, with vocal samples giving a (relevant) barely there impression of femininity. It hits expansive peaks at the bridge before this sweet farewell leaves a lone voice.

Already tearing up from “Futures”, “Always Tired” continues this ‘theme’, with this album easily extracting emotion from me. Is it just me or is it like there are particular cracks in one’s heart that’s been waiting for these songs and their situations to be laid out so clearly and compassionately, and – in the innocent act of listening to them – we are changed and maybe even healed. Music is powerful in reaching places we don’t necessarily know exist. “Always Tired” does something to me, with concerned vocals, a fog of ethereal tones, slowly wondering bass, tension building guitar, and an almost angelic sense of undying support and love (“We’re all around you”).

In the track, Dominic expresses trying hard to get to someone that he loves who is missing. It’s not hard to read between the lines where it seems the missing person has been struggling before this point of concerned escape. “Why do you feel so gone?” spoken out into the abyss creates a gut ache of fear and worry, where the worst is anticipated. It’s such a beautiful hand-holding, persistent-presence piece of music, and I can see it being one that listeners keep in their pocket for times when it seems like their absence from the world would go unnoticed.

 

Though the more upbeat vibe of songs on What It Is To Be wasn’t what I expected prior to my listen, it is something that I have become easily accustomed to over repeat listens. These songs feel like easily swallowed remedies to the problems The Comfort are sharing, more than a dark sink into the personal chasms they relate to.

“Die Alone” may as well be placed chronologically after experiencing something intensely healing like ayahuasca and while feeling that growth has happened, not necessarily knowing if it’s reflected outwardly in your life (yet), or whether there’s even a happy ending ahead. Dominic described the track as “pondering the mysteries of death, the decay of the body, and what might or might not happen to the spirit, or lack thereof.”  The chorus shifts from a search for a home to “I don’t want a home”, which for Dominic relates to surrendering to whatever will happen when the time of death comes.

The looping vibe of repetition was an obvious stand-out on “Die Alone”, and guitarist Marcus Parente shared that he was influenced by dreamy pop/rock music at the time. Because of my personal way of consuming music is typically via the lyrics and emotions, I unfortunately got less out of “Die Alone” than the other tracks of What It Is To Be due to the repetition, and would have loved to see something more exploring/rabbit hole diving on this topic.

Heading toward the end of the album, ‘the dark’ gets a little bit of a look with “Solus” and “Breathe”. Sung by Liam, “Solus” was a track he was concerned about, as he’s directing negative lyrics toward himself; where he’s sinking in uncertainty and keeping his ‘bad thoughts’ to himself. While keeping an echoing and ethereal quality that we’ve heard throughout What It Is To Be, each line of “Solus” seems to land in a thud. A semi-whispering quality to Liam’s voice gains a noticeable emotional push with Dominic’s vocals; seeming to match the fact that Dom reinforced that “Solus” should go ahead as a song, simply because it was real – a genuine moment in time that had happened for Liam.

As with “Die Alone” I could hear “Solus” as something created after the return to ‘reality’ after treatment in Peru, because of hoping people notice a positive change and being scared they’ll only see the things that have remained the same. As Liam shared, though ayahuasca is a very powerful ‘reset’, it isn’t a miracle cure and still relies upon choices made, perhaps on a daily basis.

With Peruvian psychedelics aside, there’s a very relatable stress to wanting to present in a particular emotional/mental state, while simultaneously feeling yourself wilting. This stress comes across in the more abrasive and heavier chorus. I’m a fan of the ultimatum/teetering-on-the-edge building guitar that leads into the “When will it be over?” plea to the universe, as well as the cliffhanger ending that the stellar instrumentation creates.

“That’s why I turn everything I feel to art,
So I don’t have to talk to anyone about anything that we are.”

Mood-creating guitar work and forward flowing bass floods “Breathe” also, where Dom also explored some negative states he’d experienced, as well as sharing how he handled/handles them. He’d described himself as going through a ‘struggle of existentialism’ and seeking to find where he fits; finding that sitting in contemplation and meditation had benefited him. Where he’d previously chastised himself for creating art in response to pain, he came to appreciate that he had this important and healthy outlet, and the lyric relating to this then went through a 180 degree shift in meaning.

As you listen through the album, it’s clear that Dom’s voice is distinctly different from Liam’s, with something of a harder edge to it, while also sharing related to the themes of self-reflection. The difference works really well for The Comfort when Dom shows up in more demanding emotional moments as well as more assertive expressions.  “Breathe” comes across as someone just trying things and having found something that works, and it is beautifully backed with climbing instrumental work, layers of sound, ethereal atmosphere, and openness at the choruses.

“Sanctuary (La Búsqueda Del Espíritu)” closes the album, seeming to pull together all of the album’s threads into one piece of music. Translating to ‘The Search Of The Spirit’ from Spanish (Peru’s official language, probably not coincidentally!), this track begins somewhat sparsely with just a guitar, feeling very much like ‘something is coming’.

Liam takes the listener through his experience, where he had ‘voices in my head pulling me from the very end’. It’s a really honest expression of how seriously dark things became for him, but also that he managed to overcome it and gain fresh realisations. Progressive addition of instruments and sounds lead to the driving pace of the upbeat chorus, which includes the beauty of a lyric “I want happiness, no matter how long it takes to be whole”.

Sonically gaining strength, the track matches the growth in determination in purpose, and the belief in self expressed vocally. It offers a wide open contemplative space, before The Comfort yet again make me cry in the last moments of the album. Each part of the band draws progressively back together before capturing a poignant moment of realisation.

“It all repeats
We are everything”

After absorbing all full ten tracks, I’m left feeling moved and with a full heart. The Comfort have really brought their experiences to life in What It Is To Be, taking the listener along for the experience. We’re there when they’re desperate for solutions in a broken state, there when they ponder the meaning of existence, and work toward the fullness of who they know they are. We’re also allowed into other angles, where observations of relationship distance, or caring hearts who hope beyond hope that the one they love is okay. We’re shown handling darkness, and how there’s possibility beyond what feels permanent. The Comfort are sharing a survival guide of sorts, and how they’ve managed to endure and overcome and grow, even if they’re still facing challenges.

I feel this is something really unique, and to me the word ‘tender’ seems to capture the album’s sound. There’s nothing jarring here, and The Comfort have really carefully crafted (along with Sonny Truelove) the experience from end to end, intended to allow the listener to sit with the music and its sharings. While What It Is To Be is exceptionally honest about the human experience, it’s wrapped up in an ethereal atmosphere and the result is something really special.

What It Is To Be is available this Friday (9th November) and can be pre-ordered here: http://smarturl.it/WhatItIsToBe

 

The Comfort - What It Is To Be
  • Album Rating
    9
The Good

Unique lyrical content, and honest encapsulation of experiences The Comfort members have been through. Stunning moments where reality meets 'the gate to the stars'. Ethereal atmosphere done in a way that wasn't overpowering or detracting from the meaningful subject matter. Loved the tag team vocals and moments of unity across the whole band.

The Bad

While "Die Alone" was flowing and dreamy, I'd have loved to see more complexity lyrically.

910
Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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