Friday, December 11th, 2020

For Those I Love – I Have a Love

It never fades…


Scott Mildenhall: A towering monument to a life and all that came with it, “I Have a Love” bears the boldness bequeathed by aftermath. David Balfe’s boundless affection for Paul Curran pulls him at once in a hundred directions, and with what sounds like his every sinew, he’s become able to wrap them all together. As raw as it sounds, this is no stream-of-consciousness; he’s chiselled away at the marble with devotion, and therein that devotion is preserved. Part curator, part poet, his resounding fragments of documentary recollection flow through it all viscerally — most evident in his performance for Jools Holland, but unmistakable both on record and video. Amid doubt, despair and scribbling echoes of “Teardrops”, there is that certainty; that love. As the name suggests, those he loves are clearly the focus, but beyond them, it’s a vast public memorial: “Tell All Your Friends, I’d say”.

Rose Stuart: This song sounds how grief feels. It rambles, goes on tangents, and gets stuck on the minor details that seem meaningless but also mean everything. The flow is erratic and bounces between rap and spoken word until it begins to feel like you aren’t listening to a song but a eulogy. It’s messy, but the crisp beat keeps it from being a mess. It’s a rough listen, especially for those of us who have lost friends young, but it’s a worthy one. 

Michael Hong: It’s difficult to listen to songs like these, these tributes made for someone who may never hear their final product. Because “I Have a Love” was written for two people, one already gone and as a vehicle of grief for the other. It’s a beautiful tribute, a recollection of hyper-specific mundane memories that make sense only to two. But for anyone else, it’s uncomfortable, the uneasy feeling when you’ve intruded on someone else’s private moment. 

Samson Savill de Jong: Art is a vehicle for the artist to express their inner world to others, a way of communicating with a subtlety and emotionality that language alone cannot quite manage. The best art is therefore not from a universal perspective, but instead deeply personal, managing to take the essence of the individual artist and their experiences or emotional state, and presenting it in such a way that people who have not been through the same things can nevertheless understand, empathise, even feel what the artist has. “I Have a Love” might feature events that are not as unique as we’d like them to be, but this is very much a song exclusively about David and Paul. The poetically blunt lyrics reel off shared moments that all contain a story within themselves, of which as an outsider you only catch a glimpse, but still sense how important they all were. The lyrics contrast with the haunting and abstract synths, which build and build throughout the song, combining with David Balfe’s voice to express sadness and defiance and love and hope and all the complex emotions that words can’t adequately sum up. But you can feel it, or at least I felt it. Songs like this are why we need art, both as listeners and as artists.

Edward Okulicz: Grief we encounter in art, even really good art, doesn’t often do justice to the feeling of grief. It’s often too mannered, too scrubbed-clean, too rehearsed before release to capture the intersection of love that has nowhere to go and hurt that that threatens to overcome. “I Have a Love” doesn’t mince its words, play down its accent, try to blow up the personal into the universal, or devolve into cheap sentimentality; it feels real. The window into two lives is made vivid with snatches from phone recordings, talks about the experiences and the music they shared. I’ve been to funerals with fabulous eulogies and ones where something was missing — this has so much in common with the former I can feel a little twinge for the ones I’ve lost too.

Katherine St Asaph: Astonishingly sentimental in comparison to the current irony-hell milieu — as in, even more so than a spoken-word song written around the line “I have a love” automatically would be — but not at all mawkish. The midsection, audio clips of the lads being lads over the same wistful arrangement, is a technique that’s been done many times (Kate Bush’s “All the Love,” others?), because every time it will destroy you. Even the climactic synth resembling the McDonald’s jingle can’t lift the mood.

Will Adams: Realization: it’s not that spoken word+piano tributes are inherently maudlin, it’s that so few know how to do it like this. David Balfe’s speech — an elegy for his lost friend, Paul — is intense and unrelenting, doling out memory after memory over a stark piano riff that morphs into a 4×4 pulse (a similar trick to Dido’s “Take My Hand”, and just as powerful). But by the midpoint the emotion overwhelms: Balfe’s meter runs off the rails, a synth sputters and jerks and the harmony dissolves. But so often, that’s how it goes: what begins as a considered memoriam for a lost friend collapses into raw catharsis.

Alfred Soto: I thought of the few Pet Shop Boys tracks on which Chris Lowe talk-sings, particularly “Paninaro” when, uncharacteristically pulling off the shades protecting his heart, he announces, “YOU! YOU’RE MY LOVER! YOU’RE MY HOPE! YOU’RE MY DREAMS!” “I Have a Love” depends on similar moments of brusqueness in mourning the death of a friend. I can’t imagine anyone listening to its soft looped synth ripples and stentorian vocal more than once, but it’s affecting.

Nortey Dowuona: Looping piano chords are scattered behind FTIL, who spits sandstone crumbs as little drips of percussion drive by with other instruments shouting forgotten names out of the window. FTIL can’t hear them though; he is onstage. Suddenly, drums kick open the door, carrying a massive flag which FTIL leaps off the tiny stage to take, before running back up and waving it back and forth. A little synth crawls in and is picked up by the drums. They watch FTIL wave the flag back and forth, and the drums kiss the synths on the head as they let out a tiny yawn and turn in, their little eyes closing.

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I kind of hate how much I liked this one, but maybe that’s because it feels almost tailor-made for me. I realize how cheesy a lot of the world finds spoken word delivery, which I would absolutely argue this is, but it speaks to my love of poetry and audio storytelling. Love for this particular brand of rhythmic spoken word was probably primed in me by listening too many times to Riz Ahmed/MC’s Englistan and The Long Goodbye, both albums which I understand are unarguably cheesy affairs, but clearly communicate a lot of emotional pain. The track is wrapped in memories, to the point of a minor meta-narrative involving the instrumental’s origins. I feel like some artists would leave that narrative in interstitials, tacked on to the end of album cuts, but there’s a boldness to putting it front and center on what becomes a very danceable single.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The majesty of what “I Have a Love” does is as follows: calling your shot, sonically, rarely works (we discussed this with “Sweet Melody” earlier this week.) The reason for this is simple: what you think is the most impactful part of your song is only sometimes the same part as that which your listeners do. By drawing attention to any particular part with your lyrics, you’re giving your hand away, revealing the artifice of songwriting. It’s a risky move — but when “I Have a Love” does it, letting the beat drop out and leaving just David Balfe talking about how “this bit kicked in with its synths and its keys,” as the synths and the keys break through, it wrecks me. It’s a moment of pure amazement, using a vast wave of sound to convey a small, precious moment — just two guys sitting in a car, letting the speakers blast the very sound we’re hearing back at them. It’s the moment that makes the rest of “I Have a Love” seem even keener in its already sharply drawn eulogy. It’s one of the most unique musical experiences I’ve heard this year.

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