The Top Fifty Albums Of 2022: #10 LINES OF FLIGHT 'Signs Of Life'

Published on 23 December 2022 at 15:15

By Paul Laird

Author of "The Birth And Impact Of Britpop: Mis-Shapes, Scenesters And Insatiable Ones"


“Ligne de fuite” as they say in France. 

“Fuite covers not only the act of fleeing or eluding, but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing in  the distance (the vanishing point in a painting is a point de fuite). It has no relation to flying.”  

(Brian Massumi) 


Born in the seemingly infertile soil of a pandemic, when human contact, even with those closest  to us, was forbidden, Lines Of Flight managed to find a way to elude the horror, to find a means  by which creativity could flow, and where ideas, memories, and hopes, could leak from the hearts  of the two protagonists in the story, Matthew Henderson and Helen Whale.  


During those first, most awful, months of lockdown, the two, remotely, connected and created a  series of songs that would, ultimately, form the bulk of this astonishing debut album. When other  people lied, to themselves and to everyone else, about how they were going to use the enforced  isolation of lockdown, to write that novel, learn a language, lose weight, blah, blah, blah… Henderson and Whale decided, instead, to be honest with themselves, with each other, and with  whoever might find them. 

Honesty is always the best policy. 


Signs of Life'' is, taken as a whole, a hymn to the virtue and value of honesty…there is no sleight of  hand here, no fake tales of lives never lived. Here are songs for the heart, born from the heart,  and precision engineered to fix your broken heart. 


The first song on the album, and the first song they wrote together, “Birthing Bell” was inspired by  the year that Whale spent living on Rathlin Island, a place where, when a baby is born to an island  family in a mainland hospital, the islanders gather at the harbour to welcome them home. The  island also has a dark history with a massacre taking place in 1575; “For this song I juxtaposed  these moments of birth and death, despair and joy, against this darker past.” 


Moth Eaten Heart” is a song about relationships, but as with all the best songs about  relationships it is also about so much more. “It’s about finding escape, and solace, in a new place  and relationship, and the attempts to weave myself into the fabric of a life wholly different from  everything I’d known before. It is an attempt to chart the difficulty in doing that, and how life can  gradually tear at the seams of everything you’ve created with someone, and then you start to  move away from each other, and the ties you have created start to erode.” says Helen. 


A different type of relationship lies at the heart of “Heading Out To You”. “This song came about  following a drive out to the east coast. I was reminded of driving up Sutton Bank in the snow, in a  wonderful old car that my dad drove - a 1970’s Datsun Laurel. It felt so luxurious! At the time I was  driving to a party and all the anxieties of that I had as a teenager but in the song, I repositioned it to  be my final drive to reach my dad. To be reunited with him, in his car - to travel to the ‘other side’  as referenced in the song.” 


When I travelled from my home in Edinburgh to see the band make their live debut in Leeds,  Matthew spoke to me about writing lyrics in words of three syllables. A technique designed to  ensure that every word mattered. I tried to employ this technique in my first review of that gig,  without any real success. On “I Remember Everything”, he gives a masterclass in how to say it  all, without needing to say it all…”A reflection on the changing times, emerging voices in the face  of paranoia, systems of control and the barrage of information we receive on a minute by minute  basis. Each line is restricted to three syllables, to give everything impact and urgency.” 


It is the willingness to say something, to say things with thought and care, to find new ways to say  these things, that elevates Lines Of Flight above the herd. But perhaps their greatest skill, their  most beautiful gift, has been to deliver these songs with electronic sounds, sounds that can,  often, be cold and sterile, but which here are as warm, and as intimate, as any soul of folk record  you can bring to mind. 


All of this is perfectly captured on the album closer, “Listening Land”. “A collage of different  memories and feelings evoked by the heaviness of a hot summer’s day. Themes of absence and  time, from the slow plod of idling, heartbroken days as a teenager, to the absences brought into  sharp relief by the tracking of landscapes over aeons. The cranes and the “listening land” are a  reference to Aldo Leopold’s, hauntingly beautiful, “Marshland Elegy”. Just take a moment to think  about that. Absence, time, heartbreak, landscapes shifting and changing, Aldo Leopold. If you  desire something more from music than the moribund, if you have care for the careful, if you have  need of healing, this is your album.


Find out more about Lines Of Flight at their Bancamp page here.