Active Child’s New Album Offers Healing and Hope That’s Absolutely F*cking Necessary Now
COVID19 has interrupted everything. Life. Financial markets. Freedom. It has even impaired my enjoyment of music. I haven’t written about anything since Douglas Dare’s Milkteeth on February 22. There’s been plenty worth noting since then: the rap-pop exploration of gender dysphoria that forms the backdrop of Mavi Phoenix’s Boys Toys; Cmon’s state-of-the-art indie pop on Confusing Mix of Nations; the sneakily intuitive Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, a reinvention of songs by The National (not covers, really; reclamations) from an African-American indie perspective by Bartees Strange. Yet nothing parlayed admiration into language. I was paralyzed: a deer in apocalyptic headlights.
What does any of that have to do with Active Child’s third release, In Another Life? Nothing, yet these words in this digital space should also tell you: everything. For those who aren’t familiar with his previous work, Active Child — the nom de plume of Patrick James Grossi, born in New Jersey, based in L.A. — is a gossamer spiritualist; his ethereal electropop more interested in moving your soul than your feet. And while the shiny surface pleasures of these 10 songs border on ambient sedation — the keening violins; Grossi’s gently plucked harp; the angelic falsetto and choral harmonies — repeated exposure reveals a depth of healing, acceptance, and beauty that’s more than merely breathtaking right now. It’s absolutely fucking necessary.
Grossi’s jumping off point here is the passing of time. “My father said to me recently that in his mind he has been 35 years old for the past 30 years,” he has said. “This really struck me, but it also made complete sense. No matter what point in our lives we are in, we are constantly co-existing with our previous selves and memories.”
This bleeds into the video for the single “Weightless,” wherein all of Grossi’s previous and future selves are conjured in a continuum of being.
“After becoming a father,” he has said, “I found myself looking back on my own childhood, and then at my parents and their childhood and so on. I was intrigued by this cycle of life and family. It was comforting to know I was on the cusp of my own cycle but also daunting looking back knowing that one day that circle would complete and another one would start. In that way it’s as much about life as it is about death and that unknown space between the two.”
That “unknown space” he references might also refer to spirituality, which is embedded into the spectral DNA of this record. It could be the “something bigger” referenced in the title track or the mysteries and liberation of the human heart on “Set Me Free” or the communal fortitude of “Brighter Day,” a song filled with simple platitudes — “lean on each other,” “love one another,” “help your brother” — that would usually send me screaming into another room, town, galaxy, yet in this moment in time is the simple, placating tonic that stirs me to — dare I say it? — optimism.
Sonically, In Another Life is flawless. Active Child shares with his former tour mate James Blake a mystical, transcendent approach to electronics, yet his edges are more rounded, warmer, less intellectual. The lyrics here are aspirational, to be sure, yet there’s darkness in the instrumentation that reminds us that the “Cruel World,” which ends this album, is out there to take us down. What In Another Life leaves us with, however, can be summed up in two other aspirational words from our recent past.
Hope. Change. We could surely use a lot of that right about now.