The Beautiful Fear
The Waltz of the Moonshine Blind
The Beautiful Fear is the product of English producer and musician, Matthew Bannister, who is now based in Brooklyn and Miami. This is his second album under The Beautiful Fear moniker, following 2016’s One. The name of this project arises from Bannister’s time in rehab six years ago, and the on-going struggle to face life, to change, grow, and, in his case, escape addiction. The Beautiful Fear, then, is this process, where ‘the good days are on the other side of the fear.‘ In a sense, then, this album can be read as a response to Pulp’s This is Hardcore, and, in particular, the sprawling first track, ‘The Fear,’ which sees Jarvis Cocker’s character sliding into depression, misery, and godknowswhatelse.
Bannister’s music gets compared to Pink Floyd a lot, and there is a reason for that. His sonic landscapes are very much a hearkening back to the moody, brooding soundscapes Floyd perfected in the late 1970s, and Bannister’s voice does actually sound like a cross of Roger Waters and David Gilmour’s. The Waltz of the Moonshine Blind is a sprawling double album.
Music is, for most of us, an escape as much as it is an expression of self and creativity. And, it is on this level that I find The Waltz of the Moonshine Blind so compelling. Bannister’s soundscapes are very meticulously crafted, his voice is layered and processed and so on. The music never jars, it soothes, it slides us into a soft and gentle place. But that is at direct odds with the lyrics, which either fit into the ‘manic’ or ‘depressive’ category, as Bannister comes to terms with addiction, recovery, and change.
This structure, of ‘manic’ and ‘depressive’ is purposeful and meant to alternate those highs and lows that come from withdrawal, though this is also the feeling of many suffering from depression as well. The goal was to convey the idea of ‘missing something, like you’ve endlessly lost your wallet and your identity is in there somewhere.’
The album opens with ‘Doll’s Eyes Lifeless Eyes,’ a sweeping cinematic track, which sounds at times like an out-take from The Wall, as Bannister enters rehab, and wishes good-bye to his addiction, his old friend who has been there everyday. The visuals are both abstract and dramatic, including watching water rush off what looks like the top of the horseshoe of Niagara Falls.
The third track, ‘Anhedonia,’ is arresting, opening with an acoustic guitar, when the first two tracks are these complicated compositions. ‘Anhedonia’ does expand into a larger song, though simpler, with a 4/4 beat, and a soaring electric guitar. But, Bannister’s lyrics also penetrate here:
I feel love, left behind
I fear life, lost in time
I feel pain, owns the day
I fear death
I feel love, lost in time
I fear life, left behind
I feel the pain every day
I fear death
I feel life, never mine
I fear love, all of the time
I feel the pain always this way
I fear death
the nothing in death
my Beautiful Fear
And that, of course, challenges the title of the track, as ‘anhedonia’ is the inability to feel pleasure, and, as such, is essentially one of the symptoms of depression.
The tracks of this album flow into each other effortlessly and ‘Anhedonia’ slides seamlessly into ‘Water Bored,’ and the lyrics draw on the play on words of the title and the form of torture that is water boarding. The song fades out on a single note, which I find rather beautiful, as its meant to convey the idea of a breathing apparatus in the hospital, that constant bleeping, before it speeds up and music is slowly drawn to it, before this single note goes through a chord progression and feeds into the thunderclash of ‘Present But Never There.’
‘Present But Never There’ is The Beautiful Fear’s current single, and over a chugging beat and church bells, Banister notes he could get used to this, finding ways to fill his boredom. He’s still stuck in the anhedonia phase, but he knows something is wrong, there’s something missing. This, of course, is a constant feeling for him as he details his recovery from addiction.
‘The Arndale Whale’ comes complete with visuals, and goes deep into his experience being sexually abused at the age of ten in school. The video sees him having a nightmare in bed, and a series of flashbacks to his childhood, the video game, Pong, rockets, and a young boy in a push car, as the lyrics find this child imploring his attacker to ‘leave me be.’
In 2018, Bannister filed a police complaint in England concerning this sexual abuse. We can only hope he finds peace. I don’t know, even that sounds trite.
‘God Loves Delay’ opens in a squall of feedback with a distorted recording of AA founder Bill W before a funky bassline à la Jah Wobble kicks in and we get a track drenched in, well, delay effects. The stuttering beat and the shimmery guitar is intriguing, drawing in the listener, as do the female vocals across the bridge. This track also provides somewhat of a palette-cleanser. It is a wonderfully retro track, and could’ve just as easily been written in 1992 as 2020. I think it’s my favourite on this album.
‘Pour Me’ opens with some random voice describing religion and Christ, female chanting vocals and then a slow swelling of the music to Bannister’s vocals about drowning. At just 1 minute, 17 seconds, this song is really just an interlude, as Bannister sings ‘If everyone would drown’ and slowly, the sound of heavy rain moves in over the track and then a big beat like a heartbeat slowly begins to take over. And then it ends.
‘My Simple Friend’ begins with what sounds like that breathing apparatus beeping before we slowly emerge into an ethereal soundscape before eventually the song explodes into funky beat, guitars, and Bannister’s Pink Floyd-esque vocals. Album closer ‘The Beautiful Fear’ seems to encapsulate the themes of the album, the manic and the depressive, the replaying and coming to terms with past behaviours, the wrongs done to us, and life in general. Bannister sings that he feels the fear, ‘the beautiful fear.’ At 8 minutes, 46 seconds, it is the longest track on the album, and a beautiful, rather stunning closer.
Taken as a whole, The Waltz of the Moonshine Blind is a gorgeous album. Sonically, it is numbing, in a good way, a means of escaping the world around us, the chaos, the everything. But that’s only if you don’t pay much attention to the lyrics, which are heavy. Bannister has been through a lot in life, and, of course, he does use his music to help him sort himself out, and that makes it all the better for us. But even if he is willingly giving us his pain, as if we can share in it with him, understand him, understand our own fears and pains, I do find myself somewhat discomfited by his traumas, his experiences.