2012’s Spectral Dusk made public Jonas Bonnetta’s private response to his father’s death.
A few nights before my father passed away, I found myself awake in the middle of the night while my sister tried getting a few minutes of sleep up in her bedroom. The two of us were alone in the house we grew up in, both worried that by the time we returned to the hospital in the morning, he would be gone. I remember that night so clearly, even all these years later: Sitting in the basement at my desk, OK Computer playing in the background, a pen and paper laid out on the blotter, taunting me, daring me to find words to describe what was going on inside. I had no other outlet to express my fear, my anger, my guilt, and the sense of loss already hanging over my head. That notebook is still here somewhere in my house. Even though I’ve forgotten the whole of the verse I wrote down that night, its opening lines have always stayed with me, and I recall them often when waves of emotion come flooding in: “I can’t sleep, / There are too many ghosts in the house tonight….”
When Evening Hymns’ Jonas Bonnetta asks “How long must I sing these songs of sorrow? / What’s the trick to get the darkness out?” on the song “Arrows” from 2012’s Spectral Dusk, I sense his own ghosts lingering between the notes. I intrinsically know his hopelessness and the futility he feels when he laments “I’ve been singing now for hours / Hoping for some special powers/ Teach me all the things that I can do to bring you back.” What’s a son to do? We’re not doctors, superheroes, or holy enough to think that prayer will make a lick of difference. You can’t buy the cure at the corner store; you have to carve your way out of the darkness by going into the corners you’d prefer to leave unexplored and catalogue all that lurks there.
Spectral Dusk made public Bonnetta’s private and personal response to his father’s death. Its moments of sentimentality and sweetness punctuate the sting of pain and heartache that comes when raw nerves are exposed and irritated. Much like he has on his recently released solo album, All This Here, Bonnetta employed field recordings (made in the dead of winter in the place where his father first shot a deer) as the album’s bookends. The vastness of the field recordings allows room for memories and recollections to float in and out of Spectral Dusk under nature’s power. In this way, we never linger too long in one emotional state. Moments of sentiment (“You and Jake”) temper anger (“Family Tree”). Hymns of love (“Moon River”) cuddle up with lullabies to the ill (“Song To Sleep To”). Wordless, haunting instrumentals (“Irving Lake Access Road”) convey as much warmth as the glow of a solo guitar and voice “(Spectral Dusk”).
Spectral Dusk always leaves me wanting to reach out and give Bonnetta a satisfying and comforting answer to his question about how long he must sing these songs. It’s human nature to want to reach out to someone who’s going through an experience similar to one you’ve already had. In those final notes of Spectral Dusk, as the music bleeds into the howling of the wind, I suddenly realized it’s the other way around. Spectral Dusk is Bonnetta reaching out to me and anyone else who is listening, wrapping a comforting arm around our shoulders and saying words that aren’t always easy to hear, even though they’re true: “It never gets better; it just gets easier in time.”