In my review of Scott Lawlor’s previous work Transition, I introduced him and his unique artistry with an overall suggestion inspired when I realized he has over 200 releases in the ambient music genre. I wrote: “If you are into soulful, thought provoking and consciousness expanding ambient music, Scott Lawlor is a composer and artist who needs to be on your musical radar.” A casual visit to his bandcamp site (https://scottlawlor.bandcamp.com/music) can be a bit overwhelming because of so much content that reaches back a long way. So where to begin immersing in these sounds, poetic titles and essays about his inspiration? It’s wonderful when artists are so prolific, but everyone needs the perfect entry point.
For me, that point is the incredible trilogy (so far) which he has written in tribute to his beloved brother Joe, his struggle with stage 4 cancer, his passing/transition and now the emotional struggle in the wake of losing a beloved soul far too soon. The first recording, the “open door” to the experience, was Look Unto the Heavens, an expansive search for a meaning to suffering that sets up Transition.
Lawlor’s just released third recording in this series has a more elaborate title, perhaps indicative of the multiple levels of emotional upheaval the grieving experience, followed by a generally sanguine acceptance of the reality of what has happened and an attempt to discover a place in his heart for creating a new normal – even though nothing will ever be the same. In his general notes on “In a Dark Room, A Single Candle is Lit in Memoriam for Those Whose Lives Were Incomplete,” the artist writes that smiles propelled by wonderful memories that help fill the emptiness. Lawlor mentions Joe’s “humor, his love, the great man he was and the spirit of calm that he will always be, watching over all those who he held dear.” As we listen to Lawlor’s emotional, sometimes turbulent but ultimately soothing and healing outpouring, we can sense that his brother is not far off, guiding Lawlor’s hands over the synth and piano and then easing away to wait for a heavenly reunion that faith will bring them one day.
Lawlor sets the stage for the 70+ minute journey with a nearly 11 minute, chorally enhanced piece that introduces his sense of faith and artful imagery connected to his music: “if you watch, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.” I love how he provides such a gorgeous visual for us as we close our eyes and listen in on a choir crying out reverently but also with questions (like the Psalmists of old) to the Almighty. As the spacey ambience grows in intensity, those voices seem to rise to become part of a higher realm deeper universal truth. The voices likewise ease from soft to loud and back as if trying to find their way between mourning and healing. It’s a beautiful tension.
The voices are in a full embrace of our senses to help guide the way to the second track, “If tears could build a stairway,” a hypnotic, meditative peace that moves from heavier dark droning tones (presumably, the heaviness of a heart in transition) to a lighter atmosphere underscored with the sense of darker, lingering sadness. It’s as if a stairway is being constructed with sadness at its base, and with every step we rise higher into a slightly less burdened future – all the while knowing that the sadness will be at the core of everything for a long time.
Just as I loved “The Last Goodbye” on Transition, I connect powerfully to track 3 because of Lawlor’s gorgeous piano melody, which brings all the light and dark tones of universal contemplation down to a very tangible human level. “Your end, which is endless, is as a snowflake dissolving in the pure air” is stark but thoughtful, offering a beautiful way to view the ephemeral nature of love. It’s here, its physical manifestation stays for a time, then dissipates into a much larger and ultimately more meaningful realm. The shifting shades of darkness and light, divinity and humanity are stunning too behold here.
On “Tears are the natural bleeding of an Emotional Wound,” Lawlor introduces the sacred realm with dramatic long notes on an organ as transcendent harmonic colors swirl around, pull back and re-emerge. As the 20 minute piece progresses, the organ takes powerful precedence then recedes and returns – implying tension, wanting to be reverent in the presence of the divine, but still having doubts in its goodness and ability to heal and reconcile. Emotions are messy, chaotic things sometimes and they get in the way of the peace we seek. But we are always striving.
The symphonic crescendo at the end of Track 4 bleeds into the beginning of the next piece, “Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality,” a louder, brasher, bolder expression of love, hope, faith and all the struggles inherent in embodying the better angels of our nature in the light of what we have lost. There is a clanging bell sound, prominent then distant, the perfect metaphor for the gathering then dissipating chaos. Lawlor takes his time with the closing 27 minute track “Closed Eyes, heart not beating, but a living love,” a bright awakening full of horn sounds creating light above the swirl of emotional ambience beneath it.
The title of this piece sums up everything about the transition of a loved one and our response to it. They’re at peace, eyes closed, heart not beating, but yet they live, their love fills us endlessly and becomes part of the universe in ways it could never achieve in human form. Lawlor infuses this expansive soundtrack to those powerful contemplations with moments of rising light and dark echoing emptiness, but ultimately fills that sense of loss with heavenly infusions of energy that helps our hearts and love itself go on.
Ultimately, what anyone writes about a project like In a Dark Room…or its predecessors are simply words that point to an experience that cannot be quantified. In losing a dear musician friend once, I wrote a whole book about him and our friendship, to celebrate a legacy and inspire. I was limited by language. I feel a similar limitation in listening to so called healing songs with lyrics that are specific and don’t capture the whole experience. The incredible thing about what Lawlor has done is opening a door to this dying/mourning/longing/healing realm that is beyond language and thus not subject to words trying to capture what ultimately cannot be expressed with them. His music is a blessing to all who have been there, and all who will be – and all those who simply want to discover what ambient new age music is all about.