Album Review: Bitter Calm – ‘Good Grief’

Posted: by The Editor

When you first immerse yourself into Birmingham band Bitter Calm‘s debut record, Good Grief, you seemingly know what you’re about to check yourself in for. Being a project that hangs heavy from lead-singer, Michael Harp’s, past tragedies, it encapsulates everything that grief has to offer after one deals with the detachment from their former band, their father’s death, and the demise of a relationship all one after the other. But, if you’re seeking another crestfallen-indie rock record that bumbles about, sulking in its subject matter, you won’t find that here.

Even though Good Grief leads in that direction, four years of preparation has spun Bitter Calm’s debut into a stunning gallery of grief that is explored from all facets and, ultimately, documents the healing process of something that is, most times, too tender to touch. 

Chronicling pieces of Harper’s life through audio bites taken from his parents’ old home videos, Good Grief sets out to be an album that isn’t just inspired by personal experience but is the video camera itself, recording every piece of it. It’s the visual and auditory aspects of the record that helps it shine, though. Flickering back and forth between tidbits of his great-grandfather or great-grandmother speaking over a crackling sound bit, the sense of nostalgia and odd comfort is felt from the first 30 seconds and doesn’t waver for the rest of the album’s listen.

With Harper’s  outlook that has been toyed with for 4 years, being a godsend to the debut’s grieving process, alongside Bitter Calm’s ability to seamlessly mesh entrancing blends of orchestral instrumentations with heart-thrumming guitars, it’s hard not to be influenced as a listener. 

The songs ride high and dip low, expressing the different eras of grief, something that Harper has stated is something he’s thankful for. Being able to sit so long with the emotions and swirls of heaviness has allowed him to have an objectivity in perspective that wouldn’t have been possible years before. This causes a very clear progression in story as one listens, hearing the despair grow into hope over the course of the 8 tracks. This is where you really feel the projection of rediscovery in who Harper knows himself to be. 

This isn’t more evident than it is when the album wanes farther to its close, the last songs being the strongest in production and self-reflection. “Summer Camp” is a powerful piece that is better experienced than described, declaring “I must recreate who I am,” something that is a very long journey after grief strikes, stripping so much of your identity. Even on closing track “Outsided,” lyrics like “God fill me with infinite memories” hits hot as it contrasts other types of trauma to one of mourning. 

Bitter Calm’s Good Grief is heavy for a debut record, but it’s also bold and respectable. Coming out swinging with a four-year bout transcending the grieving process is daring, but it sure as hell paid off. Because, at the end of the record, you aren’t sad. You aren’t bitter. You’re what Harper came to realize about healing after death. Most trauma is dealt with by trying to forget, but grief is dealt with by trying to remember. And this is an album that is all about uplifting remembrance. 

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great/ Phenomenal


Hope Ankney | @hope_ankleknee

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