It is always lovely when my twin passions come together in one piece of work as they do with Afterwords. As the title suggests, here we have an album of serene, subtle, dexterous, and delicate music inspired by passages and quotations from some of the artist’s favourite books. A bit like Instead of Heaven, an album which I have recently had the joy of writing about, the music takes the form of solo piano pieces but, again, like that album, it darts between the ambient and the energetic, the spacious and the ornate to create the right atmosphere around the words.
But personally, the most glorious thing about this album is the books and authors he chooses as his starting point, not only great, though not always obvious, works of literature but also many that are close to my own heart. So much so that whilst playing the album for the first time and noticing just how many of the books were on my own shelves, I quickly wandered through my house to make sure that Tobin hadn’t somehow gotten into my place of abode and been borrowing my books. Fear not; he hasn’t, or at least if he has, he has put them back exactly where he found them without me noticing.
And of all the books used as the springboard for the compositions, I was happiest to see China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station as the source for Dissolution, A Lullaby, perhaps my favourite author of modern times. And as the music tumbled and floated around, it drew me back through the streets of New Crobuzon, a place of dark thoughts and questionable ethics but here a bluesy take on optimism for the future and acceptance of the circle of life.
There are some expected inclusions as well, classics such as Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, which gives us Every Night A World, Every Morning A Circus, and a jaunty jazz groove perfect for the Dustbowl era themes, as well as Learn Something, from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which gives rise to a beautiful musical musing on education and self-improvement, a piece that ebbs and flows between the complex and the relaxing.
The Old Man and the Sea turns the piano into choppy water upon which we are carried ever further from land, and Stone Water Trough takes us into the troubled dreams of Sheriff Bell in his final soliloquy from No Country For Old Men as he muses that the world has passed into something that he no longer recognises. An idea is also reflected in the music, a bebop meditation, the music of times past.
Afterwards is a wonderful album, deep and full of meaning, as are all of Tobin Mueller’s works, but more so for anyone who is an avid and adventurous reader. Soundtracks for your favourite novels but also music getting to the heart of the settings of those grand narratives, or making music that is the sonic version of the quotation chosen, capturing the atmosphere and context in which they appear.
A glorious endeavour and a perfect reminder to blow the dust off some of your favourite works and get lost in their worlds once more.