Music can be therapeutic, not just for listeners but also for the artists. In the case of Slum Sociable, their self-titled, debut album represents more than two years of personal loss and struggle. For Edward Cregan Quinn, the LP was an outlet to deal with the loss of a close friend. The record, however, represents something different for Miller Upchurch – the inner turmoil he quietly experienced as he dealt with depression. Realizing that Upchurch’s mental health was more important, the duo delayed the release of their album by five weeks, and it was officially unveiled to the world on Friday.
This context is necessary to understand the power and brilliance of the Melbourne-based duo. Whereas most mainstream albums are driven by heavy rhythms and beats and over-produced instrumentation, Quinn and Upchurch’s hard-hitting and poignant songwriting drives Slum Sociable. This isn’t to say the album lacks in the musical department. On the contrary, the two deliver cinematic soul-pop that is reminiscent of the ’70s and ’80s, which contributes to their stories sounding more like short films than personal accounts. The gripping “Castle”, for instance, is akin to the tantalizing broodiness of a film-noir classic with a storyline to match, but a closer listen reveals a song that is highly introspective.
“Ever wonder why I stumble around at midnight looking for the answer?
Just like you, I can never get the words out.
I’m too proud.
I’ve been told many times that I should flee,
That would be shallow.
This isn’t all for nothing,
I’m going to watch you make it out.”
A chill lingers in “Treated Like The Weather”, an alt-pop number that feels like an unplanned trip through the snow-filled streets of Paris in December. The jazzy opener, “Moby Bryant”, further shows how the band translate their pain into a vivid story. A quiet emotion rings throughout this track dedicated to a lost friend, particularly as the following words are sung.
“Although we both hate it
Everybody wants us complacent
You still be so patient
What else do they expect?
You know I can’t become
You’ve no idea what’s to come”
At times, Quinn and Upchurch deliver songs that could be considered both personal accounts and stories about anyone who has come and gone. The soulful “14 Days” is a lonely journey of self-discovery. Instead of finding fear and disappointment, the song is one of revelry and celebration. Following the whistling introduction of “Name Call”, Slum Sociable take us next to someone whose reality exists somewhere else. Meanwhile on “Keep Up With It”, the band deliver arguably their most gripping and immersive piece of songwriting, as they describe one’s internal struggles and the sliver of hope that one holds on to in order to see the next day.
“I’ve been here for days,
But everything has changed.
Honestly, I thought I could keep some things the same.
I can’t stop this moving.
You just need to lose it.
I just want to know that you can take the reigns.”
The pair open up to a different part of their lives on “A Hearing”, which recounts a father’s love. It is more like a farewell more than a memory, which is how the album’s final two songs feel. Through the ringing of a great bass line, “Outrunner” is a wave goodbye to the things from which we can or try to escape. It’s message is rewarding yet frightening in the understanding that any outcome is possible. The finale, “Don’t Come Back Another 100 Times”, is a sombre number, and it reveals the enormous weight a person bears especially during their final days.
“Wanted everyone to know I’ve got this one,
But I only want what’s gone.
But it’s all I’ve known.
Babe, I’m tired of the walls,
And wire I can’t cross.”
Despite the pain, loss, and struggles, Slum Sociable have persevered. It would be a mistake, however, to categorize their eponymous debut as a triumph. Slum Sociable is more of a recognition of the fragility of life, the uncertainty of the every day, and the celebration of tomorrow. It is an album made for those who have encountered major obstacles as well as those who breathe a sigh of relief while looking into past. But most importantly, the record has one primary message – to let us know we are not alone in trying to make it through the day.
Those in Australia can catch Edward Cregan Quinn, Miller Upchurch, and their band in concert this week. Their nationwide tour kicks off in Sydney on December 1st. Details are available here.
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