Talvihorros: Eaten Alive

If there's one thing that Eaten Alive signals above all else, it's Ben Chatwin's dramatic evolution as a composer. In fact, it wouldn't be pushing it too far to say that the recording alters one's conception of him from guitarist first, composer second to composer first, instrumentalist second. Admirers of his six-string talents needn't worry: his electric guitar playing is still central to the Talvihorros sound, but it's—at least on this album—now only one element in a much larger arsenal. Synthesizers, keyboards (piano, organ, harpsichord), and percussion are as prominently deployed, and one track in particular, the galaxial “Becoming Mechanical,” even resembles a synth-fueled take on kosmische musik. And not that his music has been lacking in this regard in the past (look no further than the incredible material he contributed to the third textura full-length Monuments and Ruins as proof), but Eaten Alive is perhaps Chatwin's most emotionally direct collection to date.

In keeping with its grim title, the forty-three-minute recording explores dark themes, including addiction, betrayal, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. It's not that Chatwin delights in masochism, however: the project grew out of a late 2010 weekend he spent with Daniel Crossley, the manager of the Facture label and owner of Fluid Radio and Fluid Audio, in East London where Crossley had lived for much of his life and where Chatwin also happened to be living at the time (he's since moved to Scotland). Crossley shared with Chatwin harrowing stories of loss and isolation that grew into a heroin habit (fortunately for all concerned, Crossley managed to get clean). While Chatwin does vicariously transcribe the anguish associated with a serious drug problem into musical form, the recording isn't unrelentingly bleak, as moments of redemption are also present (certainly the title of the closing track, “Today I Am Reborn,” suggests as much), and one comes away from Eaten Alive believing in the possibility of survival and recovery.

Some pieces on the album hint at the idea of a life coming apart. “Little Pieces of Discarded Life” opens with the familiar sound of Talvihorros guitar playing—bruised and scarred in this case—but ventures beyond it in draping celeste-like melodies overtop of it and in having the music blossom into a piece that's more than a textural exploration. As if to emphasize the point, the guitar sounds at times almost recede altogether, leaving the simple organ and synthesizer patterns to carry the music along. Though its title is suggestive of the claustrophobia and despair experienced by the addict after withdrawing from public view, “Four Walls” feels less so musically in its melancholy blend of guitar playing (acoustic and electric) and keyboards—if anything, glimmers of hope emerge within the music as it steadily rises and asserts its strength. Elsewhere, “In the Belly of the Beast” powerfully evokes the image of a user drowning in the deepest waters of addiction, and “Dyspnea,” which refers to difficulty in breathing and is often associated with lung or heart disease, also exudes a somewhat claustrophobic feel in its early moments. And while “Today I Am Reborn” does, as mentioned, allude to recovery, it also suggests in having the music's melodic patterns struggle to wrest themselves free of a backdrop of guitar distortion that the struggle wasn't easily won. To his credit, Crossley spared no expense in the presentation of this latest Talvihorros project: issued in a limited-edition run of 200 copies, Eaten Alive is packaged in a letter-pressed CD cover accompanied by five double-sided prints and a forty-page photo booklet of East London, among other things.

December 2013