The languid instrumentation of the title track off Sivu’s sophomore album belies the starkly personal lyrics about his struggle with progressive hearing loss from Ménière’s Disease.
Rising from the fertile grounds of London’s indie music scene, British singer-songwriter Sivu first garnered attention in 2013, making waves with the release of several singles and EPs, including a duet with Marika Hackman. In October 2014, his debut album Something On High dropped, featuring production from Charlie Andrew (alt-J, Marika Hackman), and solidifying Sivu’s foothold in the indiesphere.
After taking some time off, Sivu has returned to the spotlight with his sophomore album Sweet Sweet Silent (released 7/7/2017 via Square Leg Records). In a decided change of pace, Sivu employed a more stripped back approach on his second album. In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, Sivu said “I decided early on after touring I wanted to make a live-based album. I just had this urge to make something less considered and focus more on capturing a performance… I think overall the record is a lot more raw and understated.” When asked about the recording process, Sivu revealed that he found working with producer Charlie Andrew inspiring, remarking that “we didn’t want to make massive layers, we’d rather just focus more on the songs and the delicate moments and silence.”
In eschewing the indie rock instrumentation that featured so heavily on his debut LP, Sivu has crafted a timeless collection of ballads on Sweet Sweet Silent. The bones of the songs remain the same, with his introspective lyrics and emotive vocals, but the largely acoustic instrumentation allows his voice to take center stage. On many of the tracks, lightly strummed guitars and soaring strings build to a swirling crescendo, the best examples of which are the singles off the album: “Lonesome,” and title track “Sweet Sweet Silent.”
Listen: “Sweet Sweet Silent” – Sivu
Harkening back to his earliest singles such as “Over & Over” and “Dimmer Down,” “Sweet Sweet Silent” is a soothing respite from the sunny electronic bangers and tropical house tracks flooding the airwaves during summertime, the errant cloud in an otherwise clear blue sky. The organic instrumentation is a breath of fresh air, and on his album commentary on Spotify, Sivu revealed that the track was recorded live, with Charlie Andrew on the drums, Kirsty Mangan on strings, and Sivu playing synths. The song starts off with Sivu singing in his lower register over undulating synths and a steady drum beat, but it’s not until the violins kick in during the bridge that the track feels blissful, adding a joyous sheen to the mid-tempo track. The string arrangement complements Sivu’s signature emotional vocal delivery, and it never feels overly grandiose or tackily saccharine.
However, the languid instrumentation belies the starkly personal subject matter of the track, which deals with Sivu’s struggle with progressive hearing loss from Ménière’s Disease. As explained in his album commentary, the track “summed up the feeling across the whole album,” and his “feelings of despair and uncertainty over his future.” It’s easy to overlook the lyrics and focus solely on the soothing instrumental, but Sivu wastes no time in getting straight to the point. In the first thirty seconds of his music video for the track, Sivu addresses the inner turmoil that arose when he was first diagnosed, and the sense that the door was closing on his music career.
Likewise, instead of making oblique references or shrouding the topic in metaphors, the lyrics to “Sweet Sweet Silent” are vivid and somewhat resigned. The song opens with the lines “Sweet silence grows/ In me right to the core/ Give me what my hands adore/ It’s coming back for me,” but overall, Sivu sounds like he has come to terms with his diagnosis as he repeats the lines “You can do whatever you want/ You can hold me underwater/ Til I go blue” throughout the song. Ultimately, Sweet Sweet Silent is solid evidence that Sivu has matured as an artist. Here’s hoping that Sivu has many years left in his music career, and that he continues to churn out beautiful records.
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photo © 2017