There are few things more existentially terrifying than cancer. I imagine it’s near impossible to properly describe the sensation of carrying your death with you always.
Of course, the possibility of death surrounds us on every beach and airplane, in every unexpected fish bone and on every icy stretch of highway. But you can always leave the water and step back onto the tarmac, you can always lift your foot from the pedal. You can find time to sit, however momentarily, in life.
So what happens when there is no leaving death behind? How do you escape the weight of disappearance when it’s sitting just beneath your skin?
This appears to be the question posed by Patient Hand’s Stoic, the debut record from Montreal-based ambient musician Alex Stooshinoff. Stoic seems to suggest the answer is staring directly into the void and taking back whatever can be given.
The album was written after Stooshinoff’s cancer diagnosis, though he describes it as a love record, a document detailing his attempts to face the unknown and look beyond it. In his own words, Stoic is about “enduring the dark night, and finding the courage to live with an open heart.”
The record joins a relatively small and storied lineage of albums that deal with life in the throes of cancer, from Mount Eerie’s devastating 2017 record A Crow Looked at Me to The Antlers’ 2009 Indie classic Hospice.
Stoic manages to combine aspects of both albums – the ambient post-rock textures of Hospice and the raw acoustics of A Crow – to create something wholly individual. It’s an intimate and personal record, awash in various degrees of grey and silver, and it closes the gap between folk rock and ambient without devoting too much time to either modes.
Rich drones, acoustic guitar, field recordings, piano and lush keyboards ripple outward in calming waves, though there are moments of roiling surf that break the delicate tension with electric guitar, squalling drones and crashing drums.
The relatively gentle music is often juxtaposed with bitingly specific lyrics, as on the driving single “I Shaved My Father’s Face” when Stooshinoff sings of swollen lymph nodes and masturbating in a bar bathroom.
The warm and atmospheric production almost makes the album feel like one long piece of music, as songs transition softly into one another, sinking and swelling in their deftly organized track listing.
For something so consistently beautiful, Stoic can be an intense and nerve-striking listen. It is both bracingly honest and tenderly hopeful, grappling with questions of mortality, familial love and the self in the face of total emptiness.
Judging by the carefully considered and deeply affecting record that he’s managed to create, it seems that even in such overwhelming dark, Stooshinoff has found some kind of light.
by Kaelen Bell
Published in Volume 73, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 28, 2019)