Cheval Sombre releases his fourth album, Days Go By, on May 28, 2021. It is his second album this year, and a companion piece to Time Waits for No One, which came out at the end of February to great acclaim. Like that album, it has been produced and mixed by Sonic Boom and features guests including Galaxie 500 and Luna frontman Dean Wareham.
Cheval Sombre is the nome d’arte of Chris Porpora, a poet from upstate New York whose otherworldly psychedelic lullabies on his self-titled album from 2009 and its follow-up, Mad Love (2012), won him a cult following. Coming just three months after Time Waits for No One, Days Go By furthers the overarching theme of the inexorable and inevitable march of time and, musically, comes across like John Fahey sitting in with Spiritualized circa Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.
It will be available on vinyl, CD and digital. The copies for sale in record shops will be on yellow vinyl, the limited Bandcamp version (just 150 copies) is frosted clear with blue splatter.
The beautiful animated video for the first single, ‘Well It’s Hard’, premiered yesterday on Brooklyn Vegan. Watch it below.
The title Days Go By is actually taken from the lyrics of the previous record’s title track – and this is just one way in which the records are inextricably linked, via a number of symmetries.
Both have ten tracks, with eight originals, one instrumental and a closing cover version, which this time around is a take on Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts’ ‘The Calfless Cow’.
“Having the opportunity to release two full-length albums in the same year doesn’t come around too often,” explains Chris, “so I wanted to go to every length to make it special – meaningful. It was a privilege to realise this meticulous level of symmetry – it truly became another vital dimension in the craft of record making. Around each turn, there was a chance to be incredibly measured and thoughtful, not least with Craig Carry’s artwork.”
But, as the intersecting flight paths of the two birds on the respective covers show, there are also plenty of differences. Not least, the mood, which on Days Go By is lighter, airier, punctuated by strings which are even more beautiful. Chris likens it to Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, but in reverse order.
“How wonderful to discover that on the other side of experience, there is an innocence which has endured,” he explains. “Beyond politics, love affairs, worldly woes, even life and death, it’s true – there is a calm after the storm.
“It’s strange, this life – isn’t it? You’ve got all these songs around conceptions of time, it’s over eight years since your last album, you decide to release twin records, and their release dates somehow fall perfectly in line with the unfolding present. When folks say that the stars conspire to make things happen, I tend to believe it. Time Waits for No One is a dark record, already reminiscent of the shadowy days of winter, of the trials of the pandemic. If Days Go By can coincide with the promise of springtime, bringing with it light, lifting spirits – then I know my work has been done.”
Days of our lives with Cheval Sombre
After such a long gap between records, what made you decide to release two albums in the same year? “Things took shape over the years since Mad Love. At some point the feeling arose of it’s-time-to-put-another-record-out. The work went through an intensely thorough process – songs were written naturally, only when they occurred, roughly recorded, listened to on walks for years, played out sporadically at shows, re-recorded in Brooklyn and Portugal, listened to again for endless miles of further walks. Initially, I wanted to do a double album as there were 20 songs – all of which were deeply considered over time against the backdrop of all kinds of places and situations and therefore felt at last essential. But then the idea of two separate LPs emerged – 10 songs each, with a meticulous symmetry, twins of a kind.”
When we were discussing how to release the albums, you sent a passage from an obituary of photographer Peter Beard, and pointed out a quote from his book Zara’s Tales where he had appended Blake’s famous “you never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough” line with “if you crave something new, something original, particularly when they keep saying less is more, remember that I say: too much is really just fine”. “Ah yes – I didn’t know much about Peter Beard, but when I read his own words in his obituary I was struck. Of course a prudent minimalism has always appealed to me – but in certain cases there is good reason to go beyond, to flourish.”
How does Days Go By differ from Time Waits for No One? There is still darkness, but it feels lighter, more ornate. “Yes – Days Go By is lighter as a whole, less bound by earthly, sensual concerns – a realm of a very different quality. Clearer, even. To get there, we often have much wading to do – but when we arrive, there is a weightlessness. Dramas are left behind and cast aside, and what remains is all that couldn’t be tarnished. There’s a purity in Days Go By, a sense of surrender.”
The artwork is important here, because the lighter colours reflect the music inside. It very much feels like the music is lighting the path to a brighter future, or at least a way out. “Once I realised that these two albums were an inseparable pair, I began drawings for the sleeves. See, the songs on Time Waits for No One recognise time as a horizontal phenomenon, where Days Go By conceives time as vertical. I sketched a bird for each in black ink, purposely flying in these respective directions. Put together, there is a completion – but I don’t want to say too much. Once folks have them side by side, it all comes together. Looking at these drawings, I knew that there was only one person I could hand them over to, and that was Craig Carry, in Ireland. There is a tenderness and grace in his work that feels – thankfully, wonderfully – out of step with contemporary art. I sent him some paintings I’ve always admired as colour touchstones, we traded songs back and forth through each email for context – it was an exceptional, rare process which I enjoyed immensely. And? He pulled it all off, for both records, with a profound grace.”
The title Days Go By continues the overarching theme of the two records – time and the passage of time – and it resonates even more after a whole year of lockdown and all those hours spent reflecting, planning, hoping. “The title was plucked from the lyrics of the song Time Waits for No One – another measure to tie the albums together, and also for the simplicity and clarity of the words. The phrase Days Go By sounds almost weightless, but there is a crisp, inevitable truth there. I wrote the song Time Waits for No One some seven years ago – never could I have envisioned its language suiting a lockdown. But that is one of the fascinating aspects of time – we can never know how the present might be relevant down the line. That these songs could be seen as narrating some of what has been unfolding recently is – well of course I’m glad for it, that any of it could be helpful. I like how you say the records come after a time of ‘reflecting, planning, hoping’. These are cornerstones in living a contemplative life – essential in living, writing, creating. Perhaps thoughtfulness is having a long-awaited moment of resonance – may it continue.”
How do you feel about the reaction to Time Waits for No One? Did people get it, or does it take longer to appreciate? “I feel very grateful that it’s resonated with folks. Something that was unexpected was the positive reception of ‘Dreamsong’, the instrumental – that really pleased me, as it was a departure from the other records. I’ve got some overwhelming notes here from those who listened deeply. That it could be a good companion in quiet moments, or while people are moving through space and time brings joy to me. Inevitably, some people aren’t going to appreciate it, or take the time to – I wrote about that in ‘Had Enough Blues’. But I do think that it is a record which reveals itself after repeated listens – the subject matter is dense, the images take time to unfurl. I listened to these songs for years before I had a decent grasp of what was going on – it’s mercurial stuff.”
Will it make more sense to people when they hear Days Go By? You described them as “two solid bookends, when acquired, one truly lovely journey, complete”. “Both sides of the story so far, joined. Reconciliation. Once we acknowledge these contradictory aspects of our lives, a wholeness emerges. My hope is that with the records side by side, a third element might make itself known – less about sense, but something much more elusive, intuitive – a convergence.”
So, if that is the journey complete… what happens next? “Related to Time Waits for No One and Days Go By, a small EP may be on the way, with a special remix of ‘Are You Ready’, as well as two very different cover songs – if the stars align. Then? I don’t know. I think I’d like to write a book.”