It’s hard for us to be objective about Active Child. Pat Grossi’s searing, unexpected debut four years ago moved us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Hanging On, the breakout track from You Are All I See, became one of those songs that somehow meant something different and personal to everyone (including Ellie Goulding, who used it as the basis for butchery). For us, it remains a devastating, heartbreaking plea and the moment that Active Child became something ethereal.
The point is, Grossi’s music has the power to touch people in a way that not even he can quite comprehend. That might explain the long gestation for his new record Mercy, which is ostensibly about love but could well be applied to the punishing spotlight his delicate music can face.
What’s the Active Child response to this? Become more, er, pro-active it seems, and continue the sonic journey that worked rather well on the Rapor EP. Grossi holds our hand on the gorgeous opener 1999, gently massaging his falsetto on sparse instrumentation. What stands out more than ever is the crystal clarity of his voice – still the most powerful weapon in his arsenal – as it rings out in tones so lilting they’re practically massaging us as we recline. Grossi says that he wanted his voice to not just be heard but felt on the record; this new approach goes a long way toward making that happen.
The writing and structures are kept simple, and pleasingly so. These Arms – like most of the work here – echoes with harp and piano, and manifests Grossi’s most traditional structure to date; meanwhile Darling follows as a straightforward 80s-throwback ballad (if you can call it that), almost hymnal in its solemn approach. Clearly putting a shrine on the cover was no accident.
In a way, that ends up being one criticism of Mercy: too much restraint. Grossi at times sounds defeated – unsurprisingly, as its genesis seems to be in the darkness of a breakup – and there’s a longing for him to cut loose (and also a longing to give him a massive hug by the end of it, though that’s by the by). He nearly gets there on Stranger, which kicks off an emergence into light at the end of the record. But it’s a testament that we live through and empathise with his pain until, appropriately, our favourite choirboy rises again on Lazarus. We just hope the world shows him enough mercy for the next record to be a more optimistic stormer but, for now, this sadness is killing us in the right kind of way.
Mercy by Active Child can be ordered here.