Antumbra Pull is the first full length from Pleasure Systems, the recording project of Clarke Sondermann of The Washboard Abs. The album, which has been gestating since last December, is dedicated to Sondermann’s partner, and each song forms a “love letter or thank you note.” Unfortunately the album has extra resonance as its subject is battling some worrying health problems, and is beginning a long and arduous treatment process. “I want these songs out in the world,” Sondermann said in a note on Twitter, “so I can go on record of what that love looked like before everything in my life got distorted by this shadow.”
The first song, ‘Living’, exists in a calm, hushed space, rippling guitar, gently thumping percussion and disembodied wordless vocals combining to create a sound that’s all rounded edges. Eventually Sondermann’s vocals enter, their familiar considered cadence adding an extra emotive edge. ‘Crumbs’ is an immediate change, the opening synths more direct, the lyrics both stark and sweet.
“He spills his sweetness on me
tells me it’s alright
but I feel my body pull away
when the shadows come at night”
As those lyrics suggest, Antumbra Pull is essentially a collection of love songs. Each track is pure and sincere and deceptively rich, each created within its own little world, or perhaps conjuring a snapshot of a particular time/place in our own. Take for example the diversity of effects and percussion on ‘Saw U Glow’, which evoke some weird jungle ecosystem, a lush green backdrop for lyrics about transcendental sights and feelings, or ‘Pool’, which is built on the sound of running water, the synths like dappled sunlight on its surface.
I guess, in light of the circumstances, Antumbra Pull is an album that deals with suffering and tragedy, but almost never directly. Those thoughts and fears exist in inference only, invisible-inked between the lines, and probably wouldn’t exist at all if, as a listener, I didn’t know its wider context. It’s a reminder that everything we have in this life deserves our utmost love and attention, and that we’d do well not to take it for granted for a single second. ‘Satellite’ is one of the few songs that hints at the shadow that Sondermann mentions in his note, as though charting the true importance of the love by exploring the consequences of losing it. “I don’t wanna be alone again,” he sings, “I don’t wanna try to build another home again, so I, so I feel afraid again“.
‘Crystal Plane’ is part introspective bedroom pop, part Stranger Things OST, the delicate vocals and nostalgic lyrics backed with emotive 80s synths, while ‘Blue’ sounds brighter and more purposeful, the driving beat embellished with birdsong. The final track ‘Haunt Me’, distils what has come before, a bittersweet love song that brings to mind the David Foster Wallace phrase: “every love story is a ghost story.”
“All I want
for you to haunt me like a shadow
all I want
to feel the grace inside your power?”
There’s a positivity that threads through the album, and the timing of the release is important. Here, the positive outlook never seems like some near-forgotten memory, instead it’s as if Sondermann is using Pleasure Systems to focus all of the hope and love into a beam which is aimed at the shadow, a beam which might not make the problem go away, but can at least be used as a formidable weapon in the forthcoming struggle.