“These ideas, of a world in decay, a world subject to constant change, and of the shortness of human life, made many things bearable” – VS Naipaul
Light in Your Mind is the first new material from CYMBALS in two years, and their first album since January 2014. If the wait seems long for the listener, for those involved in its creation the time in between pulls in a lifetime of unexpected experiences. That Light In Your Mind even exists is a testament to not giving in. That it sounds the way it does is both remarkable and, somehow, inevitable.
Since their inception, CYMBALS line up has been subject to a great deal of change. Amidst that change there has always existed the songwriting duo of Jack Cleverly and Dan Simons, who formed the band in 2011 with the sole intention of “having fun”. A noble aspiration, but one that became increasingly hard to realize when the realities of a 9-5 existence started to corrosively rub against the expectations of being in a band that wanted to tour the world.
“We kind of stopped everything in its tracks around two years ago,” says Jack. “2014 was a really intense year. One-by-one the other guys in the band couldn’t face it anymore, so we widened the family, met new people and worked with them, until they had to move on and then we worked with others. It was hard on a personal level, but as a band, it also felt like a kind of chrysalis.”
At various points over the last six years and across three albums, an EP and single, a rotating cast of at least ten other people have formed some version of CYMBALS. More still have contributed to Light In Your Mind — Justin Goings and Josh Hefferman both provide drums, while Alabaster DePlume plays saxophone on ‘Fully Automated Luxury’. Producer Kristian Robinson (Capitol K) is a major presence across the album and played a key role in guiding the transition from the band’s sound on their previous record to this one (indeed, this was the first time the band spent any significant time in a studio). Jorge Elbrecht, whose work with Ariel Pink and Tamaryn had inspired the band, mixed the record in Miami, adding those elusive final touches that make a good sounding record great. Consequently, the music itself possesses a sedimentary quality, a residue of each contributing member compressed into what it is that band have become. Consistent throughout has been the relationship between Cleverly and Simons. In fact, so consistent is this relationship that despite the involvement of others it wasn’t until everything else was stripped away that the two finally began to be what they first tried to be.
“When the band cut down to just me and Dan, and we stopped trying to find more people, I remember that it was scary at the time, and we didn’t know if we would keep going. We agreed to a few rehearsals together and see where it went. We had a great surprise: it felt great, the writing was easy. It was if together we gave up trying to be anything other than what we are. We cut any bullshit between the two of us and talked honestly about the last few years. We found that when we started writing together, we were going faster towards the feeling that had given rise to CYMBALS in the first place.“
The ‘bullshit’ that Cleverly refers to was hardly trivial. Failing relationships, betrayal, addiction, illness: the emotional challenges were huge. Thankfully, they were not insurmountable, and as with so much creative practice, it was through the music itself that a wider understanding of the world was found.
“The song Decay, and to an extent the album as a whole, is about getting comfortable with decay, accepting decay”, says Jack. “Around the time we were writing that song I went to the Ruin Lust exhibition, and saw the beauty of things breaking down. I was thinking about that in terms of my own life, as a lot of things that I thought my life was based on seemed to be crumbling, but at the same time there was a whole load of beauty, and openings up of myself, of things that I never thought were there. I felt that I could breathe in a way, but at the same time it was kind of full of destruction and chaos, or at least I was creating that around me.”
Second track ‘Car Crash’ addresses that period head-on, a typically effervescent synth line from Simons disguising lyrical content that traverses that fine line between blind arrogance and tortured self-loathing (“I’m a car crash/I’m a river”). Like all the best CYMBALS songs, it deals in unexpected contrasts. Much the same can be said of the structure of the album as a whole, eclectically comprised of melodically memorable pop songs ('Car Crash', 'Talk To Me'), bucolic instrumentals ('My Body', 'Numbers') and longer, pensive songs that explore the space in between ('ASMR', 'I Thought I Knew You'). Cleverly recognizes that best when commenting on the name of the album:
“The title Light In Your Mind comes from the song ‘Where Nothing Can Be Defined’. The idea of not being able to name what’s happening is kind of a cop out, but it’s about grasping at something within when that thing within is not a clear light or dark. “ Cleverly elaborates, «In this title I see the image of a guy escaping an imaginary world. But the Light In Your Mind is that there is nothing to escape. In the constant decline, there is always renewal.»
As final track ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ concludes, a synth loop first heard on the opening track is subtly re-introduced, completing a circle of sorts. Like decay, the album never really ends. And like CYMBALS, at the end it’s born anew again.