The title of Iranian musician Siavash Amini’s latest album, Songs for Sad Poets, put me off listening to it for a few months.

There’s a powerful cultural tendency to romanticize the figure of the artist in general and the poet in particular. To fetishize and valorize the suffering of poets who struggle with drug addiction and mental illness. To make saints and martyrs of them, especially the ones who commit suicide, their deaths an indictment of the rest of the human race. Say what you will about their actual poetry, death has bought for them what their work might not have: immortality. An “honor” sanctioned too often by kneejerk sentimentality.

So with this in mind, every time I came across a reference to Songs for Sad Poets, I’d roll my eyes and keep moving.

Shame on me…

There seems to be something much larger at stake on Songs for Sad Poets than the tragic plight of a select group. The scope of Amini’s lament convincingly takes in the population of the planet. This is music for doomed humans everywhere, and it is unrelentingly bleak and gloriously powerful.

Songs for Sad Poets heaves with dread-filled atmospheres that seethe and undulate, that brood and glower and erupt with merciless intensity before fading back into swarming restlessness. And while the album radiates a coherent unity, each track stands out, singular in its integrity and presence. Aside from Amini’s capacious talents and vision, the strength of these distinctions are owed in part to his dedication of each track to the life and work of a particular poet. There’s no binding correlation between the music and the poet’s work – one needn’t listen, for example, to the simmering, caustic waves, insinuating and spreading across a blighted landscape before they rise up in towering solar flare blasts in the opening track, “Obsidian Sorrows,” and be expected to instantly intuit the life and work of Gérard de Nerval, to whom it’s dedicated. With that said, Eugene Thacker has contributed a series of poems that accompany each track and exist as textual counterparts to the music. A reflection and a remix simultaneously, the poems and the music coexist as much as they thrive independently.

Like slow-rolling fog, many of these tracks quietly emerge and mutate, gathering up clouds of sound that swell and recede, blending textures and timbres as they develop while avoiding any sort of narrative progression. There’s no magnetized crescendo pulling things forward, no cataclysmic explosion or grand moment ascended to. Amini carefully, skillfully conjures his elements and then gives them ample space to transform and surprise and fade away. Even the temporal boundaries of “beginning” and “end” feel irrelevant with tracks like “Demented Skies and “Smoldering Stars” reaching a kind of premature end-like silence in mid-track before they resume and head off in new directions.

Amini also scatters elements of field recordings across his tracks. The ringing silences of “A Quiet Glow” are dusted with the chatter of crickets while “A Shape Forlorn” opens with what sounds like the cycling song of tree frogs. Details like this keep the album rooted in the “real” world – and the wretched, sorrowful state of our world is, I think, a large part of what Amini is getting at.

Running beneath this album, like a searching, smoldering subterranean river of lava, is a feeling of unrestrained anger. Not a screaming kind of anger but an indelible, resolute, silent kind that gets expressed in Amini’s relentless intensity and focus. The more I listened to Songs for Sad Poets, the more I began to think that the sad poets of its title are not only the actual poets the music is inspired by, but the people who dream and, in dreaming, turn away from the harsh realities of our future as a species. The cover art depicts a landscape bereft of any evidence of human life. Is it a photo? A speculative illustration? Is it day? Is it night? Do days now resemble nights? Was this place once inhabited and has since become uninhabitable like much of our world will become? Is it the past, the present, or the future we’re looking at? We are destroying our compromised world at this point simply by living on it. How does anyone live with this knowledge and not lose all hope?

Songs for Sad Poets is a compelling, unabashedly sincere cri de cœur that is both despairing and unforgiving at the same time. A statement while statements can still be made. Listen to it and think.

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