You can’t ignore the evidence: scientists have proven that sad music is much better for our emotional health. So forget statins and 20 minutes of hard walking each day; listening to a half-hour of Dan Michaelson’s take on heartbreak, misread signals and infidelity is the sort of national tonic that could reduce the burden on the NHS.
Dan’s baritone has the shabby grandeur of Serge Gainsbourg and Lee Hazelwood, with a touch of Josh T Pearson’s deflated majesty. He makes every song a short-form novel, word-painting each situation until you shiver at the same agonies in lines like “the cold in your eyes knocks the wind out of me” (‘Tides’). Like his last two releases with the Coastguards, Distance and Blindspot, the songs on Memory are heavy with disappointment, despair and shattered promises. ‘Tides’ is a pleading request to an uninterested ex, where you sense the hurt in every syllable, while ‘Undo’ is an acknowledgement that you can forgive but you can’t always forget.
The songs can be a catalogue of emotional battering but, even when the narrator is paralysed by doubt and rejection, the song’s arrangements rally around to lift the spirits. Tracks begin with Dan’s voice and a splash of piano, and maybe some scuffed drums. At some point Dan’s enhanced band will kick in with a fuller sound, though it’s done with subtlety; it’s particularly pleasing to hear strings and brass swathe these songs in glorious regret, as on the lush ‘No Other Way’. In ‘Missing Piece’, the emotion builds up in hypnotic cycles, with squalls of muted brass and twinkling guitars used in an understated but effective fashion. The title track has a real lightness of touch as Dan pours out heartbreak after heartbreak as the band add lush textures to the song’s simple form. ‘Undo’ is chilly and sinister, ‘No Other Way’ has the same scalpel sharp lyricism as Bill Callahan, while closer ‘Half The Reason’ is stately, sad and emotional.
For all glass-half-empty people, this is the perfect pick-me-up, his best album so far of minimal, downbeat but perfectly crafted emotional pop.