Boa Morte means the good death in Portuguese, which is somehow fitting for a band that has released just three albums since their formation in 1998. Yet instead of a death wish they just want to make their music their way. The problem is that the recording industry didn’t always make it easy for them. Before There Was Air manages to merge styles and instruments in a way that makes them essential listening, a folk version of Talk Talk, who have taken that last nine years to create a set of music that unfolds slowly, burrowing its way into your consciousness.
The core band, drummer Maurice Hallissey, guitarist Bill Twomey, and guitarists and vocalists Paul Ruxton and Cormac Gahan recorded the basic tracks live in Dublin’s Herbert Place Studios with James Darkin in charge of production. Together they have created something that feels gentle and folky, yet the appearance of piano, strings and synths generate unexpected textures taking this collection into complex, unexpected areas.
A single voice opens ‘A Sound’ singing “Out to the west just as the sun sets,” piano and cymbals enter creating a haunted, fragile quality, as the hushed vocals seem pushed to extremes. Both haunted and haunting the song enters a different dimension as fuzzed out guitars and atmospherics take charge, only to be replaced by a simple acoustic piano.
The acoustic guitars of ‘Sleep – Before The Landslide’ retain the gentle framework as the song drifts into a hypnotic, sense of nature that closes with a quartet of strings and an acoustic guitar. ‘Ships Passing’ takes place almost in a dream state as male and female vocals recount a drowning of swimmers. Wordless vocals, guitars and bass drum create moments of beauty and tragedy.
There are haunting moments to this album that one doesn’t often find. The cymbals on ‘Sea Creatures’ establish the song in a peculiar, haunting way; the keyboards that follow build finally replacing the haunted quality with something closer to acceptance. Instead of threatening to fall apart, Before There Was Air establishes an alternate reality of fragile beauty.
Coming almost a decade after that last recording, there is no reason to believe anyone expected Boa Morte would deliver album awash in sound that challenges one to listen with an open mind. Before There Was Air is a gift that has been dropped on an audience that must listen closely to comprehend all the beauty that has been given to us.