The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light

Music + memory = volatile cocktail (bi-products = delusion and confusion)

Some music reminds me of places that I have never been. Every time I listen to certain songs, I think of people that have never heard them or an instance occurring years before the song was even conceived. Regardless though, the best music will stir memory of some sort, accurate or not. I’ve been playing the debut album by The Savings and Loan for the past few months and my lack of words on the subject haven’t been out of lack of inspiration, more down to caution.

Every time I play Today I Need Light, I jump to another conclusion, follow another train of thought, chase another memory; each one of them as wonderful as the last. This record is dripping with nostalgia and haunted by shadowy flashbacks. The members are Glaswegian, but when I hear their songs, I’m constantly reminded of my time in Edinburgh. There’s a darkness contained within the gravely vocals of Martin Donnelly that evokes the dimly lit streets of Auld Reekie in winter. Cavernous. Gothic. Celtic.

At times whilst listening, I’ve also caught myself regressing to thoughts of my childhood. I’m unsure of the ancestry of the band, but I feel like I’m tapping into shared experiences of Catholic schooldays, rainy, dark holidays and being forcibly steeped in Irish culture, not seeing the good in it until I escaped. The obvious connections are Catholic Boys In The Rain (possibly my favourite track on here) and The Star of the County Down. The former is a Nick Cave-like ballad noir that sends me spiraling through drizzly days of yore. The latter is a reworking of a traditional Irish song that I was surrounded by in my youth. Donnelly and (Andrew) Bush have rejigged it in ethereal fashion, turning a showband tune into a funeral march. It’s extraordinarily powerful stuff.

The arrangements here are simple: acoustic guitar and piano, occasionally embellished. Donnelly’s voice is centre-stage and it’s been a long time that I’ve heard one so effective and moving. It’s the sparseness and the spaces between the tracks, the sounds, the lyrics that make this album so captivating. Donnelly is a poet. He can be dour and abrasive (clichéd, I know), but it’s impossible to listen to this album without appreciating the regret, the passion and the melancholy that live within it. The songs are postcards from a spectacularly evocative mind and each one should be treasured.

I received this album via Dropbox in December, but a formatting problem meant that for a long time I could only listen to individual tracks. In the two months before I gleefully received a hard copy in the post, I was forced to manually play the record, track by track. Frustrated: I resorted to listening to each track on repeat, maybe four or five times, before moving onto the next one. It’s an unorthodox approach, sure, but one which has led me to appreciate the uniform strength of Today I Need Light. With not a weak track on the album, this goes down as one of my favourite releases of the past couple of years.

Buy Today I Need Light from Song, By Toad

Play: The Savings and Loan – Swallows

Video: The Savings and Loan – Catholic Boys in the Rain

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