Entertainment » Music

Territories

by Kevin Schattenkirk
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 13, 2019
Territories

There are billions of people on this planet. For many of us, the notion that each of us has only one soul-mate — one true love and lifelong partner that understands us, cares for us and loves us more than anyone else in the world — is somewhat far-fetched. Many of us can work, romantically and sexually, with any number of people. This isn't to belittle committed monogamous relationships and marriages. For many couples, monogamy works best — not everyone is cut out for open relationships and/or polyamory, and that's perfectly fine. And for many other couples, such strict commitments can be stifling and put their primary relationship at risk — the idea of a square fitting into a circle is apt, as I, personally, have witnessed the disaster of natural roamers trying monogamy and failing miserably.

But then there are those who stumble into polyamory, sometimes by way of opening a relationship and end up profoundly changed by the experience — the complexity of emotions involved in negotiating a long-term relationship to which we're ultimately committed, with a new love of which we are eager to explore. The level of honesty and disclosure required to make more than one relationship work is nothing to wince at. It takes courage to be so forthright and vulnerable when the risk — potentially losing one lover over another — can be a painful prospect. Many of us simply can't comprehend such emotional complexities until we find ourselves in that situation: Simultaneously in love with two (or more) people, and one of those people is the person we had originally committed to in the first place. But love is not quantifiable, and loving one person doesn't lessen the amount of love we have for another.

As he explained to EDGE Media earlier this year, Tom Goss explores much of this on his new album "Territories."

Throughout the album, the tempos are mostly slower, occasionally working up to a midtempo lather. Goss never wails; instead, his smooth vocals are contained but emotive. From a musical standpoint, it's clear this is a reflective album — Goss' songwriting frames intimate explorations and realizations with arrangements that tastefully combine electronics (synth and loops) with live instrumentation. Lyrically, Goss' conversations, experiences, and realizations from song to song take place in different locales, with an emotional arc as he contends with new feelings that arise in navigating his experiences.

Over a mid-tempo track with a loop, synths and guitar, "1 + 2" sets the stage with an exploration of how opening a relationship ("one plus two is one") not only requires building trust, but also instills a sense of autonomy. This leads to examinations later in the album of our role in relationships, how we function both independently and as part of a committed marriage — or, as a "we," the recurring metaphor Goss uses throughout.

In "Amsterdam," the slow, haunting accompaniment allows Goss' gentle vocal to reflect on the intensity of feelings that can come from a new attraction, the initial feeling of falling for someone new. In turn, the piano and strings-based "Be Somebody" contends with those very feelings and how they challenge the ways in which we envision our lives ("All my dreams of me are getting lost in the we... I wanna wake up smiling, never have a doubt, never think about all the things I've lost").

Recalling the electro-balladry of Olive, "Berlin" delves deeper into such complex emotions as the protagonist and his new lover temporarily part ("I fly home to my man, and you to yours the same"), requiring further negotiation of how such an arrangement might work. And then in "Eve," Goss' vocal melody remains within a short range of notes while the harmonic progression changes... perhaps like the shifting ground beneath one's feet. He reflects on the 'forbidden' and how, with honesty and full disclosure with all partners involved, this new relationship won't necessarily be anyone's downfall. Still, there is anxiety over how it all might play out ("in my dreams, you and me and he; a naïve fantasy, I've forgotten jealousy").

From here, some songs acknowledge where both lovers' husbands are situated in this experience. "Quayside" and "Quebec," a couple of tracks resembling both the soundscape and songwriting structure of Depeche Mode (circa "Playing the Angel"), acknowledge the impact on their primary, committed relationships. In "Regretting," a subtle track with vintage synth arpeggios, this new relationship has now become a substantial one outside of both lovers' marriages. In accepting it as such, being open and honest with one another — and with their husbands at home —there should be nothing to regret.

In another set of songs, Goss' protagonist turns toward his husband. This is perhaps where things become most interesting because of how the songs contend with how opening the relationship introduces myriad and complex feelings to deal with. "Irreplaceable" is direct, reassuring his husband that he is not being replaced by a new love. More compelling, in "One Thing Missing," in his experiences with his new lover, the protagonist wishes his husband were there to partake in their experiences ("Oh how I wish you were here with us"). With a spare piano accompaniment and subtle strings, "Uneven" takes stock of the lessons learned, as he sings to his husband, since the "time when I was yours and yours alone." The reassurance here ("there was a time when you believed in you and me and we against the world... I promise I still believe") is an important reiteration of that in "Irreplaceable": Throughout it all, trust in me and the commitment I made to you.

Perhaps the album's most adventurous track is "Zedel," an electronic/jazz/rock hybrid not at all dissimilar to Tears for Fears that builds dynamically. The song sums up the ways in which these experiences ultimately break from and subvert social constructions of what 'healthy' relationships should look like. But monogamy isn't the magic ingredient for building and sustaining healthy relationships in actuality. When Goss sings "We're not normal... we are lovers," we could easily replace "normal" with "normative." And from here, his new experience is one in which he, his husband, and his new lover (and his lover's husband as well) have allowed themselves the freedom to flourish by exploring an unquantifiable love.

Overall, "Territories" is a compelling work examining the impact of open relationships and polyamory, topics certainly pertinent to the lives of many couples seeking to explore the boundaries of their relationships. Musically, the combination of live instruments with electronics ultimately reveals a lusher soundscape on repeated listens. Goss seems to be telling us that, with hard emotional work, unflinching honesty, and honoring the commitments we make, there are rewards to be had for those couples not content with, or even suited to (sometimes surprisingly so), monogamy.


"Territories"
by Tom Goss
$15 (CD), $25 (vinyl)
Tom Goss Music

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.


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