Depression is difficult to talk about candidly. I’ve tried putting those feelings into words before, but I usually regret it. Like, almost immediately. There have been countless times where I’ve opened up a Notes app and written down all the depressive, circular thoughts in my head, only to read it back and quickly delete the word vomit. The words feel embarrassing, shameful, and pathetic. It’s funny though, because I listen to a ton of emo music. And I never find it shameful or pathetic when I hear singers recount their suicidal ideations and worries.
The more I listen to vulnerable music like that, the more impressive I find it to be. I know how utterly mortifying it can be to put those feelings out there. I mean, it’s hard to put yourself out there at all, but especially when it comes to topics like this. One of the core elements of depression is an overwhelming sense of shame and disgust with yourself. To be able to push past that and put out viscerally honest music…I mean, that’s a gargantuan feat in and of itself. And to write all that down and turn it into something beautiful? That’s downright amazing.
Which brings us to the album All Too Familiar, the debut LP from Dom Cloughley’s solo project, Fourthbase. The tracks are brutally frank about the pains of crippling depression. In his own words, All Too Familiar is about “feelings we all go through but don’t really like to talk about.” Mixing melodic emo with heavier elements and a slowcore ambiance, Cloughley crafts an album that cuts deep.
The instrumental intro sets the pace with its somber guitar tone. The entirety of the tracklist is drumless and minimal, with little more than an acoustic guitar and Cloughley’s vocals. The vocal harmonizations are fantastic, and are occasionally elevated with a layer of harsher screams. Having these more hardcore vocals bedrocking stripped-down songs makes them feel even more emotional and raw. Tracks like “older ghosts” or the spoken-word “untitled” are clearly influenced by the likes of earlier emo bands like Rites of Spring, but there are dashes of metal influence here too that bring to mind the likes of maudlin of the Well.
Throughout the album are ambient instrumental interstitials which serve as dreamy transitions into the next track. These bits really let the guitar work shine, and build a creeping feeling of dread and sadness. They also evoke a post-rock slowcore sound à la Have A Nice Life, adding another layer of texture to an already rich album.
But the lyrical content here is by far the most impressive aspect of this LP. There are individual lines throughout that sting. The first track that has lyrics offers the powerful sentiment – “I’m chasing a healthy headspace that’s nowhere in sight.” What a relatable feeling; trying to be better despite not being able to fathom what “better” is. Later on “older ghosts,” disassociation is described perfectly and succinctly – “I’ve been on autopilot for some years now, a character living in the background.” But my favorite lines are the simple straightforward ones – “I am ashamed to continue breathing, I am embarrassed to even be alive.” There’s no need to dress that one up in metaphors, it’s brutal enough to state it matter-of-factly.
The songs are also great at depicting the often-contradictory feelings present in a depressive episode. On “older ghosts,” Cloughley mournfully laments that “no one will notice when I’m gone.” Yet, on the next track, he follows up with, “I don’t want to be missed.” That bit really hit home. There have been times where I’ve been so utterly low that I’ve convinced myself that no one cares about me. Then, I realize that that’s not true – but I wish it was, because it would make it easier to end it all with no guilt. It’s like, your depression is so strong that it has a counterargument to every thought that’s supposed to make you feel better. That’s not really something I’ve heard articulated so clearly before, and it’s amazing that Cloughley could express those feelings so directly.
There is something comforting about this album despite it being so sorrowful. It really does make you feel less alone to hear words like these; to know you’re not the only person feeling this way. As cliche as that sounds, sometimes it really is nice to sit back and listen to the aural equivalent of a depressive episode. Hearing someone else say they feel worthless – someone who you know is anything but, based on their artistic output – really helps to put it all into perspective.
The final track has a somewhat hopeful note tucked in between lamentations – “I just want to be okay, maybe one day.” It’s not much, but sometimes that’s all you can muster. And that’s enough.
Follow fourthbase. over on Twitter. You can support All Too Familiar on bandcamp.