One of the most immediately powerful and communicative images of our time is that of the ruin. Whether it’s something prosaic and dark, like a human suicide, or profound and vivid, like the remains of a cathedral, the effect is similar: we’re made aware of, and irresistably drawn into, something that projects its history upon us. and if the ruin makes for a striking image, it is capable of being an even more breathtaking artistic metaphor – the suicide images of Rachel Howard and the juxtaposition of the new Coventry Cathedral alongside its wrecked sibling are wonderful examples. While concepts such as deconstruction, entropy and collapse are all too common in contemporary music – a worrying fact, worthy of study – the very different concept of ruin is rarely explored. Belong is a duo from the United States who seek to do just that; their music is a few years old now, so it surprises me that more people haven’t encountered it (including me; i did only a few weeks ago).
It’s usually downright inaccurate to make the claim that a music “sounds nothing like anything else”; with Belong, however, it’s entirely truthful (on their MySpace Music page, the “sounds like” field is rightly empty). Each track is ruinous, the post-apocalyptic remains of a music (of a people) that has been destroyed, drowned, submerged, consumed, distorted, purged, collapsed. To return to the ruined cathedral, walking around it is sobering and saddening; one is aware of the injustice and violence that led to this building’s present state; of the men and women who lived, worked, prayed, worshipped, lived and died within its confines; of the abject pain and loss felt when it was taken and torn down. Astonishingly, all of that is captured in Belong’s music; to describe it as ‘beautiful’ (as many have) is somehow to miss the point. A cathedral in pieces, a body robbed of life, each has beauty in its own right, but one that pales beside the thing it once was; the beauty lies in its poignancy, its ability not merely to touch but to rend both our hearts and minds as we explore it, its power to communicate the utter sadness of a present condition and to instill the confidence and the determination to Do Something About It. Belong’s achievement in creating a music that can sound like this is remarkable enough, but to be able to imbue the music with this kind of allusive power is unique and astonishing.
As yet, their releases are few: an album, October Language, a single, Colorloss Record, and a tour EP (available for free download from the group’s MySpace Music page). The album best typifies their work, great slabs of music destroyed in a multitude of ways, somehow always familiar and yet utterly alien. The EP, though, brings a new dimension to their work, with the additional (and highly disturbing) presence of vocals, insensible echoes of lost lyrics. Their music can’t be recommended highly enough.