Hear First: Lost Lander’s Aberdeen

An album premiere, plus an essay on nobility and loss by Laura Gibson.

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums—today’s is Matt Sheehy, aka Lost Lander’s Aberdeen LP — we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Laura Gibson shares her thoughts on Sheehy’s “earnest and clever one-man musical,” which you can also listen to right here.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor

We are told early on, in Matt Sheehy’s earnest and clever one-man musical, “Aberdeen isn’t so much of a place as a thing that happens to you.” A lot does happen to Matt over the course of his story, and it’s here I face the tricky business of articulating the ways I found Aberdeen moving, without spoiling its sleights of hand.

Reeling from a breakup and the loss of his mother, Matt’s story begins when he takes a job as a forester in Aberdeen, Washington. Wedged in the crook of a coastal bay, Aberdeen is the birthplace of grunge, the hometown of Kurt Cobain. To process, Matt begins writing songs, and accidentally spies on his neighbors. Then things take a turn for the strange.

A dying Northwest logging town, Aberdeen is not so different from the town where I grew up: the mossy carcass of a once-bustling mill, gear sits rusting in the rain and salt-wind. Parking lots and abandoned homes have been reclaimed by the bramble and bracken. Shops have shuttered. Rain clouds hang so low, you rarely see the tops of the trees they’re clinging to. It is grizzled and gothic. It is also beautiful, and the music of Aberdeen feels true to its setting. Sounds emerge then slip away as if disappearing back into the fog. A ghost wind of layered vocals, a guitar shriek that might be a seagull, a metallic shimmer. Even the most anthemic pop numbers seem to be anchored in silence.

Aberdeen makes me think of the work of psychoanalyst/philosopher Adam Phillips, who asserts that our identities are as much a product of our unlived lives as they are a product of our lived lives. In Missing Out, Phillips states, “We have the abiding sense, however obscure and obscured, that the lives we do lead are informed by the lives that escape us.” There is something true contained within those alternate versions of ourselves.

Often the most gut-dropping thrill of a story comes not within a big reveal or ecstatic climax, but when a small turn of phrase seems to open a door, and all at once you feel the stabbing sense that the thing you are being entertained by might have something to say about your life. In Aberdeen, it’s an offhand comment Matt recalls that haunts the story and serves as an inciting incident. While snuggling on the couch, Matt’s girlfriend Sarah casually asks, “Did your mom dying make you want to have kids?” Few events force us to wrestle with our unlived lives like the decision of bearing children. One feels both Godlike agency and utter lack of control at the same time. We reckon with our limitations, our insecurities. What if I can’t provide? What if I can’t nurture? The territory that lies between this decision, and the loss of a parent, can feel both unbearably tender, and impossible to map. The connection is deeply felt but hard to articulate.

So much of Aberdeen hinges on the ways one’s past and future are tethered to the present. In a town where the literal horizon is nearly always obscured, it’s a particular place to perceive time. Characters make sacrifices, and wonder what it means to live a noble life. More than anything, Aberdeen makes me think about potential, how loss is always embedded within potential, how potential is always embedded within loss.

Though it begins in the now-familiar format of a live podcast — a confident but casual storyteller stands before a projection-lit screen — by the end, Aberdeen is a reminder that certain subjects and experiences are far too vast and too messy to be contained within a twenty minute Ted Talk. That is why we have art. That is why we have stories and why we have music. At one point in the second act, Matt sings the repeated phrase I’ll take you down to the Borderline. I’ll take you down to the Borderline. It’s been a year since I first watched/listened to Aberdeen unfold, and I am still unsure where the borderline lies between “Matt the narrator”, and “Matt my long time buddy,” and perhaps that’s one of my favorite things about this show.

For those who miss the theatre performance, the Aberdeen album is a stunning artifact and stands on its own. Performed by Matt’s band Lost Lander, the music of Aberdeen succeeds in miniature what the live performance does best. It inhabits both the epic and the intimate, and dwells along the foggy border between our real lives and our imagined lives, and it says something true.

— Laura Gibson

You can catch Lost Lander on tour this summer:

6/14, 15, 27, 28: Portland, OR — Disjecta
6/21: Seattle, WA — Fred Wildlife Refuge
6/22: Wenatchee, WA — Radarstation
6/29: Aberdeen, WA — Driftwood Players
7/28: Los Angeles, CA — Dynasty Typewriter
8/2: New York, NY — Public Theater

Lost Lander is the project of Matt Sheehy (Ramona Falls, EL VY). He produced Aberdeen, the third album released under the moniker, and pulled together collaborators — including bandmate Sarah Fennell, Drew Shoals (Train), Brent Knopf (EL VY, Ramona Falls, Menomena), Holly Sheehy, Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie), Scott Magee (Ural Thomas and the Pain), Dana Bouy (Akron/Family), and Justin Miller.