Somnambule - Writing About Music

Vashti Bunyan ~ Lookaftering

When you’re feeling low, not angry or resentful, but that feeling when it seems as if life is conspiring against you, when a friend’s been hurtful or a lover’s left (finally or suddenly) or you’ve just lost your job and don’t know what to do next... who do you turn to?

Sometimes family or other friends aren’t quite what you need or they’re not around at the exact moment you need them. You feel like you need some time to yourself, to gather your thoughts, but the silence steals up on you and seems to hum too loudly in your ears. You think it might be a good idea to put on some music, but wonder what would help rather than hinder you. At such times, electronic music presents a singularly cold shoulder, disco is too upbeat, jazz too knotty, new wave too garrulous. For a moment you think a band like Joy Division might be your answer, but quickly realise that, however beautiful their music, you don’t want to fall any further than you already have. It seems like you need a human voice whose timbre speaks of their own struggles and experiences. The voice of somebody you don’t know, but whose tone offers you their knowing sympathy and, ideally, an undertow of hope.

Vashti Bunyan’s gentle and remarkably intimate voice is a generous gift to anyone, whether they’re feeling waylaid by the world or not. If you’ve read anything at all about her, you’ll know that Lookaftering is only her second album in 35 years, succeeding a debut that fell into a deep well of silence. You may have read that the likes of Max Richter, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom have contributed their talents to this new record. Apart from the possibility that these facts might lead you to her door, they’re unimportant.

There’s a private joy and a maturity that speaks of Vashti Bunyan’s 60 years on this earth that shines through the simple acoustic arrangements of each and every one of the eleven tracks and thirty five and a half minutes of Lookaftering. It’s an album whose very existence argues for a more contemplative approach to living through the few, spare decades allotted us. As she sings: “Life’s getting lost in mending gaps in their fencing, all I ever wanted was a road without end.”

Colin Buttimer
October 2005
Published by Milkfactory