BLOG Jonathan Doyle

NWR Issue 101

Typhoon’s album White Lighter

The large majority of albums exist in a vacuum. That is, we, as listeners, usually have little idea about the creative process of the artist. Instead, we look at our own lives through the lens of the album and derive our own meaning for each song. This allows music to become very special to us, almost tailored to our needs, not merely speaking to us as a novel or poem could, but becoming our voice, speaking for us.

However, every so often an album comes with a back story so intrinsically linked to its themes that it can only be truly appreciated through that viewpoint. White Lighter by Oregon’s Typhoon is one such example. As a child, songwriter and frontman Kyle Morton contracted Lyme’s disease, with further complications prolonging the illness throughout his youth and bringing him close to death. Songwriting seems to have become his way of rationalising a lost childhood and exploring his confrontation with mortality at such a young age.

The album is paradoxical in many ways. Its large ensemble creating a grand orchestral sound with group backing vocals may initially seem at odds with the intimate lyrics. However, upon further consideration, it makes complete sense. The songs’ soaring sound, coupled with their meaningful lyrics, provide the ideal platform for Morton to achieve catharsis. Overtly happy songs would seem superficial, ignorant to pain, while unduly morose songs would ignore one of the reasons illness is painful in the first place: the removal of joy.

The album, however, is not just concerned with Morton’s own struggle. In an open letter he explains that ‘the illness itself offers a tempting narrative hook, but while it is romantic to dwell on the individual suffering, what matters is the universal implication.’ Death is the obsession of mankind, the driving force behind all other problems, and has been the focus of art for centuries. Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead, A Writer on Writing goes as far to claim that all writing is a reaction to the fear of death. She cites Chekhov’s Lights:

You know that when a man in a melancholy mood is left tête-à-tête with the sea, or any landscape which seems to him grandiose, there is always, for some reason, mixed with melancholy, a conviction that he will live and die in obscurity, and he reflectively snatches up a pencil and hastens to write his name on the first thing that comes handy.

Rather than scribbling his name down to somehow transcend death, Morton acknowledges it. For him, this fear is not vanity in the face of impermanence but rather an attempt to make sense of time we have had and still have. Through tales of childhood joy and optimism, nostalgia and hope, Morton urges the listener to act upon the knowledge of death, to live. The appearance of anger and confusion also avoid suggesting piety, keeping him human, convincing us that his feelings are wholly authentic. Joy and optimism are not presented as a false face against the inevitability of death. Rather they represent a rival force, humanity’s true sentiment that can prevail in the darkest days. In an interview with Kansas-based Room 125 Productions, Morton’s quotation from the Gospel of Thomas puts it most succinctly:

’If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.’

iTunes::White Lighter was released in August on Roll Call Records.

Jonathan Doyle is a NWR online contributor.


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