Genre: R&B, Classical Minimalist, Electronica
A lilting falsetto voice breathes, falters and soothes on Two-Minds, the beautifully considered new album by Sheep, Dog & Wolf. Each song is packed with organic textures – clarinets, saxophones, flutes, and horns – alongside a balanced use of electronic effects and samples. Considering the number of instruments in the mix, you might expect a complete line-up of band members. Incredibly, the album is weaved together at the sole hands of young Aotearoa New Zealand artist, Daniel McBride. This reveals how the theme of isolation core to Two-Minds directly mirrors McBride’s music-making process, giving an immediate sense of how deeply poignant this album is. Amongst restrained wails and softly croaked melodies, McBride sings lines like “Isolation is my home” as he wrestles with themes of mental illness.
The depth of McBride’s musical storytelling is evident in Two-Minds, particularly when he weaves together music and lyrics through use of metaphor. Take the opening track, ‘Months’. If the music was an engine, it would be that of an old car left unused and in disrepair for too long. The key turns and the engine hums to life before it quickly chokes out leaving you in silence. A second attempt is somewhat hopeful. In McBride’s case, breathy wind instruments play slow chords with a tired energy. There is a sense of fighting against a heavy inertia. The ensemble comes in and out, each time trying to gather momentum. The first words he sings? “Months out of time/I feel nothing but this pain and exhaustion”. The rest of the album follows in a similar effort to overcome inertia as McBride asks of himself, or the music, or perhaps anybody listening: “Give me something/I haven’t been me in a year”.
Released in April of 2021, Two-Minds comes a year after the pandemic took hold, landing at a time when ‘not feeling like yourself’ was a symptom many of McBride’s listeners likely shared. McBride tackles the ugly multi-headed beast that is depression, anxiety, and isolation with catchy rhythms and memorable melodies. With a touch of dark humor and a quick pace from the opening track, McBride asks: “Who would I even be/Without my anxiety?”. The approach to scoring these heavy emotions is clever and can often leave you caught off guard. Take, for example, the track ‘Fine’, where words “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine…”are looped, growing from a faint background texture until it squeezes into the foreground. The realization of meaning is hard hitting as you consider the voice, echoing endlessly, is akin to the cycling nature of depression. The loop continues until the cycle finally falters and the rest of the song fades away.
On the track ‘Cyclical’, McBride sings “Stagnation/The screams come through the walls/I’m losing the day”. Despite these lyrics, the music never feels stagnant. Each song is a careful observation with McBride choosing to re-cast dark and deeply personal experiences as colorful jazz chords mixed with pop-sensibilities. The result is a highly relatable album that suggests mental illness could be more common than we think. It’s easy to assume that this was an album created during the pandemic when we were all feeling these emotions to some degree – disconnected, worn down, exhausted, and unable to get on with normal life. In reality, McBride completed this album four years earlier in 2017. This might owe to the reason why Two-Minds carries a great deal of authenticity; it draws on experiences that precede the current moment and will likely hold up for future listeners to come.
But it’s not all a foregone conclusion. In the album’s final track titled ‘Feeling’, a driving snare drum conjures an image of a beating heart while a rolling piano line gathers momentum. The music swells and with unbridled joy McBride sings: “Happiness as I find/I’m alive/and feeling”. Finally, we reach that high.
Necessary, real, and above all else, a pleasure to listen to, the pure honesty of Two-Minds is a much-needed album that captures our post-pandemic Zeitgeist.
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