Album Review: Active Child’s sweet, sad nugget of love

“Misery is wasted on the miserable… You think spending time with her, kissing her, having fun with her, you think that’s what it was all about? THIS is love. Missing her, because she’s gone. Wanting to die…. You’re so lucky. You’re like a walking poem. Would you rather be some kind of a fantasy? Some kind of a Disney ride? Is that what you want? Don’t you see? This is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for all this time. Now you finally have it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, sweet, sad love, and you want to throw it away. You’ve got it all wrong.” – Louis CK, “Louie”

Love, the arse-kicker. Love, the spirit-breaker. Love, the soul’s self-flagellation where you toss yourself up on the rocks of someone else’s shore over and over, finding only broken bones and bruises for your efforts. This is the love Pat Grossi has washed us in with every breathy falsetto and lingering note of “Mercy.” The beauty and joy of it is how not only is the melancholy of this state of being so perfectly rippled through each piece, but slowly and carefully we are rebuilt, the Lazurus coming back at the album’s end to right yourself once again.

Active Child’s sophomore album Mercy, a collection of lovesongs and lullabies, has all the hallmarks of an album borne of heartbreak. Released this week through Vagrant Records, artist Pat Grossi stated in a recent interview with Howl & Echoes that, “a lot of the music was written last summer when I went through a pretty traumatic breakup with a person I really loved and cared bout, and I felt really lost during that period. It was during that time that I rediscovered how much music meant to me. It sounds shitty, but I sort of needed that – that intense emotional breakdown.” There’s an understanding of what loving someone really means penned all over the lulling melodies and in the soprano-sung lyrics. 1999 starts the album off with a lone piano and that oh-so-familiar confession, “I think about you all the time.” “So the story goes, a man and a woman…” sings Grossi, setting the tone of resigned reflection and delicate sadness that follows a heartbreak.

The sound of the album is Active Child at its best. In Darling we hear sparse string accompaniment to layered velvety vocals. The harps spread honey, and you’d believe this is what actual heaven sounds like with angelic upswings and cascading harp flurries. Compare this with the RnB vibin’ of Never Far Away, with staccato percussion and neo-soul synth work, and the talent of Grossi as a multi-instrumentalist and a genre-mixer is never more apparent. The title track Mercy is sultry and syrupy, Grossi’s voice pulling back to a delicate murmur as the clicks and beats drive us to the second half of the album.

This half is where Active Child’s sound verges on cinematic. Midnight Swim is a pizzicato soundtrack to nights spent alone, an instrumental interim where the music tells us all we need to know about this low of the journey. From jarring discomfort, Stranger is a sharp ticking over as the whole album picks up. Beats are faster; bass is deeper, syncopation falls in and out of a driving underscore. By the time we get to Lazarus, Midnight Swim’s darker cousin, in which Grossi’s voice breaks through the murk of minor chords with a wrenching cry of “It’s all because of you”, we are on the road to catharsis. The album closer, Too Late, is gentle and submissive, a love lullaby in which sorrow is put to rest. The whole album is stirring, is sentimental, is an ethereal dreamworld which any broken lover has visited, if only briefly. Hold it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, this sweet sad love.

“Mercy” is out now.