Jan Swerts' first album on Unday Records is a memento mori, in which Swerts, in his distinctive blend singer-songwriter and neoclassical minimalism, reminds us of the comforting fact that soon we will all be gone... forevermore.
The journey that Jan Swerts started on his debut album along the fading places and people of his youth ended in a dead-end street towards a cemetery. The fascination for that place where every story ends was destined to result in a graveyard album. Oud Zeer/ Lingering Grief thus continues where Weg stopped.
Swerts – a university college professor during the day – often wanders around cemeteries at night. He likes the silence that lingers there; save for the crunching of the inevitable pebbles, the ringing of the bells and the barking of a distant dog. He craves the memories that float above the tombs, different for every visitor. And the confrontation with finiteness, Jan is also very keen on that.
The new album, his fourth, is a musical graveyard journey. Oud Zeer/Lingering Grief contains ten piano tracks, each of which is named after epitaphs of graves Swerts likes to visit during his dwellings. From opener 'Deze kille grond/This chilly ground' to 'Het ongekend Nadezen/The unknown Hereafter' to the closing track 'Alles vergaat, alles verdwijnt/Everything perishes, everything disappears'.
After Weg/Away, Anatomie van de Melancholie/The Anatomy of Melancholy and Schaduwland/Shadowland, this feels like a logical next step for Swerts. All his life he has been curious about what the ravages of time can do to man, not the least to himself, and so cemeteries were never far away. The musician is surprised that it has taken so long: the idea of making a 'graveyard record' – with music for ‘dead moments’ – has been haunting him for years.
Musically, Oud Zeer/Lingering Grief is more bare boned than his previous albums. Piano, voice, some sparse guitar or strings: that's all there is. And if he previously liked to point out the influences of Nick Drake, Jotie T’ Hooft and Wim Mertens, this time Swerts was mainly inspired by The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (‘Nevermore’) and Hejira by Joni Mitchell, one of his favorite records. “Well I looked at the granite markers”, Mitchell sings in the title track of that album. “Those tributes to finality, to eternity.” The same song also echoes the immortal words: “There's comfort in melancholy”.
And it is above all that bittersweet taste of the graveyard that Swerts tries to convey: on the one hand the old pain that slumbers over the graves, the countless stories of sorrow behind the graceful tombstones and the human struggle with evanescence. On the other hand the wonderful detachment and relaxation that such a place can offer. Nowhere will you find a more efficient “detox” from the excessive noise, stress and ego that is so typical of the modern age.