The story of Elijah James and the Nightmares’ second album, The Hellish Bending Towards The Light, is yet another in which the lockdowns play a big part. Rewind to 2019 and Elijah, with his eight-piece band, had just released a debut double album, Because I’m A Giant, and were planning a quick follow up album. The songs were ready, the studio booked, but global events were about to intervene. With the album shelved, the band broke up and Elijah became the one remaining member of Elijah James and the Nightmares. What he did have left, was a large collection of songs that he’d written over the years. During lockdown, he started to select some of these and began recording an acoustic album, which became The Hellish Bending Towards The Light.
Elijah James is a singer and songwriter from Liverpool, whose rich baritone voice has been compared to Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. His band might have gone, but Elijah is joined on the album by former members Gareth Dawson on drums and Emily Vanlint on violin, along with backing vocalist Sophie Bernice. His musical style is contemporary, Indy folk, with Americana and Celtic influences. The songwriting is, as the album title suggests, often melancholic, although not without elements of hope. The deep, thoughtful, and often emotive lyrics, explore life and the human condition. Put simply, there’s nothing trivial in the subject matter!
The point about melancholy is re-enforced by the title of the opening track, ‘The Coroner’s Report.’ The tune though, has a gentle feel, with Elijah’s guitar supported by Emily’s violin. The lyrics evoke feelings of mortality and the fragility of life, but there is light as well, particularly around the feeling of safety and belonging in a hometown.
‘The Man In The Diner’ was released as the first single from the album. The soulful tune has a nice Celtic feel, helped by some fine violin playing. Sophie’s backing vocals also add a richly haunting feel. In the lyrics, the narrator compares himself to the man of the title – alone and dishevelled as he passes time in the diner. The sorrow and trials of life are explored, as shown by the emotive words of the chorus: ‘My World is a drop of strong whisky in a burning building, And I’m waiting for something to save me’.
But there seems to be more to this than hopelessness. The man sitting in the diner isn’t only lonely, and he no longer waits on the words of a girl who died long ago. The narrator seems to find solace in reading Marcus Aurelius and Senecca the Younger, two Roman philosophers of the Stoic school. Is a stoic acceptance of circumstances a source of comfort here? This is a strong and thought-provoking song.
‘This Love,’ with its nicely rhythmic guitar tune, tells of a love that doesn’t seem to be working for either party. The narrator is left asking to be given something to kill ‘The next motherf….r who says just cheer up kid.’ I’m sure many of us know the feeling.
A short guitar sequence opens ‘Out Of The Woodwork’ before a sad violin melody with a slight Gypsy feel takes the lead. The lyrics, of which there are few, have a faintly menacing feel, helped by haunting vocals from Sophie, who takes lead vocals here. ‘I’m coming for you’ is a repeated phrase.
The next track is titled ‘Sara’ but is sung as Sarah. Either way, it has a good flowing tune played on guitar and violin. The lyrics talk of hopelessness and the fear of lost love, but again there is some hope, that the Sara of the title might be a saviour; ‘Be mine oh Sara be mine, And tonight in this bed I will be saved.’
‘Grown Now,’ is another deep reflection on the human condition, dealing with disappointed hopes and dreams over time.
It’s funny how the house you were born in,
Ends up an old house that is haunted
By the ghosts of the dreams that you had when you were growing up
We’ve already name checked Aurelius and Senneca, so I’ll throw in a quote from Soren Kierkegaard who once wrote, ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but needs to be lived forwards. An undeniable fact that explains much of the disappointment of life. Yesterday’s dreams and possibilities become today’s regrets. There are Americana influences to be heard on several of this album’s tracks, but for me they are stronger here. As the song nears its end, Elijah hums along to a solo guitar, which he continues – to haunting effect – after the guitar stops.
‘Feet First,’ is the shortest and the only instrumental track. It’s beautiful Celtic influenced melody is played on the violin with guitar accompaniment. Interestingly, the track begins with crowd noise, which continues as background for a while after the music starts, and briefly returns at the end. It works well.
‘Another Sunny Day,’ sounds like a title for an upbeat, cheerful song, and the pleasantly lilting tune seems to back that up. Then the opening lyrics ‘Same old tears, Same old fears,’ suggest otherwise. But, as with several songs on the album, rays of hope appear. The key message seems to be that life is to be lived here and now, and that we can find answers we need.
Next comes the only undilutedly optimistic song on the album! It’s called ‘Starry-Eyed Kid (With My Head In The Clouds),’ which is what the narrator is, at the start. He’s also beset by hopelessness and thinking that he’s ‘One of the Living dead.’ Redemption is found though, when he overcomes his caution and embraces a relationship, through which we finally arrive at a song that ends with life feeling truly fulfilled.
Looking back at childhood homes and families is an ongoing theme on the album. Often this is regretful, but on ‘My Very Own Time Machine,’ it feels comfortingly nostalgic. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a real time machine, but the narrator’s imagination as he closes his eyes and looks back wistfully at his mother and home when growing up. A gentle melody, led by the violin and with a piano added, nicely compliments the lyrics of this touching song.
The final track, ‘I Wish,’ has a sharper rhythm, with more prominent percussion. There are also some discordant elements. The lyrics tell of lost love and of wishing that things were different. There’s the sense of longing, which is found on several tracks, along with a certain feeling of resignation. It works well as a closing track.
You’ll have gathered that The Hellish Bending Towards The Light, Is a deep album. The lyrics explore deep emotions and the human condition. Throughout, it tends towards melancholia, and it might benefit from some lighter and less intense elements. That said, the thoughtful intelligence of the lyrics and the quality of performance mean that there is plenty to enjoy and admire here.
Listening to The Hellish Bending Towards The Light, left me in no doubt that Elijah James is a serious talent. He’s a fine guitarist, an extremely accomplished songwriter and his voice has real gravitas. His three collaborators, also provide excellent support on this impressive album. It’s one to enjoy quietly, rather than have playing in the background, and it rewards repeated listening.
Artist website: elijahjamesandthenightmares.com
‘Man In The Diner’ – official video:
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