Sunday 5 August 2012

Surfacing - Sarah McLachlan

There are a few albums in my collection that I consider to be perfection. I don't necessarily mean that there's no room for improvement, or that every single song is amazing. It's more to do with my willingness to listen to the album as a whole, without feeling like a track is just filling a gap, without any temptation to skip, without any desire to move on to something else.

Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing is one of those albums.

Her fourth studio album, and with great success preceding it, you'd have thought that maybe I'd have heard of her before. But I hadn't. Whether's it is due to Britain not receiving very much in the way of music from Canada, or just down to my listening habits back then (I was still very much exploring 80's music at that time, rather than anything new), I was entirely unaware of her or her music. The first time I listened to anything she had created was when I put Surfacing in the CD player for the first time.

I was sent the album by a girl from America. I was very surprised to receive it; I don't think I was expecting any kind of gift at all, it just turned up one day. Back then, when I must have been about fifteen, I was involving myself in an online, long-distance relationship with this girl. Regardless of how I now look back on that time and whether or not it was "silly", or "adolescent", and whether or not it could even be regarded as a "real" relationship, the fact remains that for a few months I felt as thought I was in love with someone I'd never even met. At the time, I'm sure it seemed as though it lasted a long, long time but, if I try and remember, I'm sure that it might just have been throughout a Summer. Either way, my fifteen-year-old self felt as though it was all very real indeed.

We had already broken apart by the Winter, but still remained in touch a little. And then one morning in December I came downstairs to find a small parcel with the CD and a Christmas card inside. She had sent me Surfacing, and later mentioned to me that she knew I would like it.

I did like it. I do like it. I love it.

The album is incredibly introspective and, at times, certainly has a rather depressing air about it. For my mid-teens it was probably a perfect choice as - although not actually going through anything particularly horrible or life-changing - I sometimes felt like I needed to be a little forlorn and morose sometimes. Surfacing gave me an easy way to lie down on my bed for forty minutes, and not do anything else except listen intently. The sleeve did not include the lyrics (a pet hate, to be honest), so I scoured the Internet for them and printed them so that I could sit and read along... eventually singing along. I did this goodness knows how many times. The lyrics are now permanently ingrained in my memory, I'll be surprised if I ever struggle to recall them in the future.

The connection between this album and the girl who sent it to me still exists to some extent. I mean, I don't hear a song and find myself thinking about what once was. No. I just remember the circumstances that led me to receiving it, and how it became my solace for an end of a relationship. It later got played a few times when spending time with my first real/serious girlfriend, and probably a few times after it ended I suspect.

Nowadays, I don't often find the time to just sit and listen to an album without distraction. If any chance exists it tends to be whilst driving, but there's a certain amount of concentration that is required for that! However, from time to time, a single song from Surfacing will pop up on my iPod, and I'll feel compelled to listen to the album as a whole once again. 

It peaks and troughs wonderfully from an ever-so-slightly upbeat starting track of Building A Mystery (and therefore the obvious choice of single), sliding down into moments that describe isolation and despair and regret, then pulls you back up into one of my favourite tracks: Sweet Surrender. It takes no prisoners as again there's a dip of sadness, an acceptance of loss, a recovery... then the final instrumental track with the beautifully haunting sound of the saw being played.

I have most of Sarah McLachlan's other albums but none of them compare to Surfacing. Whether the nostalgic links makes it difficult for something to come close, I don't know. Would I feel differently if I had just stumbled upon the album myself somewhere? It's difficult to say. All I know is that it came along at exactly the right time for me to develop a bond with it that still continues over a decade later, and I think that's one of the most meaningful ways for music to exist.

"Music is the fourth great material want, first food, then clothes, then shelter, then music." - Christian Nevell Bovee

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