We don’t know any of the answers because as listeners we’re only getting half of the home video. The faces and relationships remain a mystery to us, which makes listening to the voices superimposed over synthesizers feel achingly personal and strangely, nostalgic. We don’t know these people, but we know (and love) people like them.
Not all of the samples come from home videos. “Live in Chicago,” my personal favorite on the album, uses a voicemail left by a friend who hasn’t been in contact much in the past few years.
The voicemail starts with a summary of what he’s been up to since they last talked, including his dishwashing job at Whole Foods, but begins to ramble after that. It’s the voicemail left by someone who doesn’t know quite what to say because he’s realizing his life isn’t exactly what he planned — he’s happy that his Whole Foods discount even applies to beer, but the phrenetic drumming and chirping synthesizers in the background reinforce that mostly this guy’s walking through the big city and feeling kind of lonely. When the song fades out there’s even a chorus singing “we all get twisted somewhere along the line.” We can’t hear how Radcliffe responded to the voicemail, but we can see how he might approach a call back through this outro.
Before hearing the whole song you thought “Live in Chicago” meant ‘live’ like a live concert, but at the end you realize that it’s like living in Chicago, becoming a different person than you thought you’d be at this point in your life.
At the end of the voicemail he says, “Hopefully this message hasn’t been too horrible to listen to.” It wasn’t.
The closing three tracks on the album are murkier than the rest, but not sadder — somehow, these songs invent a melancholy optimism, like the color you get when you blend nostalgia with the contentment you feel in your present life.
Everyone perceives the line between emotionally meaningful and heavy-handed differently. For some tastes, the samples and talking throughout Warm Blood are a distraction from the “real” music, the sounds of the guitar and drums. But the samples are what make these songs so special.
The echoed handclaps and musicbox melodies wouldn’t add up to the same impact without the setting lent to them by the samples, and the voicemail would feel meaningless without the post-rock context that crescendos out-of-control so hard that you lose the thread of the narration for a few seconds.
The album opens with someone reassuring the listener that “fear is not unusual.” And that “we want to know, what’s going on? And what’s going to happen with our loved ones? And what’s going to happen with us?”
He simply says, “I don’t really know.” And, “If that has ever happened to you, you know that you barely breathe for a moment, your heart pounds with fear.”
I think he’s talking about death, and about what happens when we die. But the interesting thing is that Radcliffe cuts him off. There’s no more of the speech (sermon?) on the rest of the album’s nine tracks.
Instead, Radcliffe rolls right into songs with samples of children singing and laughing, of people struggling in their current lives in Chicago. Despite the evidence in the first song, this is an album about life.
It’s not an album about your life, but it could be.
All of Blithe Field’s material is available to download on Bandcamp, and two albums, including Warm Blood, are available to stream on Spotify. This essay originally appeared on my Medium blog, where you can read more of my writing about music or my experiences so far in New York.