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picture Jurrian Fakkeldij

Matter Of Time – the second album by Dutch alt-folk/americana collective Classic Water –  resonates like a calm before a storm; songs that gleam like rays of sunlight penetrating an ominous fog.

It’s a substantial departure from the band’s impressive debut LP Concrete Pleasures – a document of inspired reinvention, enraptured storytelling and expressive playing. The eight songs that comprise Matter Of Time are a natural next step, reminiscing moments when existential doubt starts to taint the roving spirit, memories distort into dreams, and where an ocean surface diffuses into a fathomless sky. Songs that feel tender and measured in both sound and expression; their protective shell eroded by universal troubles and concerns.

Tom Gerritsen, the band’s main songwriter, is a generous singer throughout Matter Of Time’s equally generous runtime: close-mic'd, honeyed, soft-spoken, like a familiar embrace warding you from that big bad world lurking outside. Within this geniality are hues of sadness and regret, like on album opener “Hopes”, which laments the days of gazing up at  unpolluted skies, wondering out loud if such unconditional optimism is now forever a thing of the past. “What were the real hopes we had / Those days playing in the grass?

There are hardly any sprees of bliss and romance on Matter Of Time, at least not as expressed in the past on tracks like “Tomorrow” or “Melancholia”. This record exists in more liminal, enclosed spaces, sometimes uncomfortably so. Melodies tend to simmer rather than ignite, restlessly rummaging for glints of promise within spheres of crippling unknowns. It therefore made sense for Classic Water to choose a different setting to record the music. Concrete Pleasures was recorded within the vast echo chamber of the Swedish countryside with Stacy Parrish (T Bone Burnett, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss), and concurrently, the songs sure as heck sound like it.

Matter Of Time, in more ways than one, hits much closer to home. Recorded at Dutch producer Jan Schenk’s Amsterdam studio, overseeing the sparkling waterside of the river IJ, Classic Water realized that capturing these songs required a more pragmatic and practical approach, using minimal overdubs, while repurposing elements from demos Gerritsen recorded at home. His voice is oft-accompanied by a Spanish guitar, its warm tones accentuating the music's feeling of sanctuary amidst the dread.

Meanwhile, the other founding members – Albert Dijk (drums), Lotte van Leengoed (vocals, keys), and Jan Pieter Middelkoop (bass) haunt these songs like obdurate specters. On “The Hurting Kind” Dijk’s taut, dry pulse delineates the relentless passage of time. The song, in part inspired by the opioid crisis in The United States, is sung from the perspective of an addict yielding completely to their destructive pattern, giving Gerritsen’s inviting delivery a harrowing twist.

“Question”, punctuated by Van Leengoed’s stuttering synths – almost sounding like an MRI machine on the verge of flatlining – folds the joy of matrimony into the march of death. “Love is something like water / something we’d never realized we could miss,” Gerritsen opens, asking whether he has engaged with joy enough throughout his lifetime. It’s a moving outline of love persevering through the toils of regret, not unlike the David Berman poem Classic Water was named after. The inner realist eternally at odds with the inner romantic; as things start falling apart, how do we make peace with the expanding void within us?

Middelkoop’s low bass rumblings swallow the rest of the instruments in the spine-chilling album closer “Something Stolen”, much like the memories of that song’s protagonist are eaten away by disease. The buoyant mid-tempo “Cars” and the eerie, unearthly hymn “War In Japan” treat sadness and joy as opposite sides of the same double helix: to be sad about experiences dissolving is to be happy to have experienced them.

It stands at the heart of Matter Of Time; a collection of songs in which both joy and devastation are carved into its vigilant stillness, where lived experience becomes as much a refuge as a reason to endure.

text Jasper Willems