By JENNIFER LEVESQUE
For the Advocate
I pry my body up from my laid back lounge chair that was holding me for the last 53 minutes and 41 seconds, and grab a sweater – suddenly chilled to the bone. I then check out my reflection in the mirror and wipe away my mascara-painted cheeks.
If I remember correctly, the last time I was so emotionally moved by an album was in my depression-soaked teenage years, listening to Fiona Apple’s infamous “Tidal” on repeat.
“Apocalyptic Love Songs” is the first full-length solo album from musician Chris Goudreau. The concept album focuses on grief, death and all the personal mini apocalypses in a person’s life. Some songs are personal to Goudreau and some are inspired by others.
“Lives shatter, but the pieces remain to be glued back together again. It’s not all doom and gloom though, humor and heart remain. But if you’re going to cry, you might as well enjoy the experience,” the album’s bio read.
I read along with the lyrics as I was listening to the album, which I think made for an even more emotional journey for me.
Once I finished listening to it for the first time, I was left still thinking about it, and also reminiscing my own personal apocalypses, remembering my loved ones who have passed. Like a dark and twisted movie, the album is so intense yet so powerful and well done that it stays with you for days or longer… it’s haunting.
Goudreau started down his musical path when he was a senior at West Springfield High School. Shortly before his 18th birthday, he bought himself a 12-string Takamine guitar. Now in his early 30s, it’s the instrument he feels the most at home with. Most of the guitar-heavy songs off “Apocalyptic Love Songs” were written on it.
Being an active musician in the Valley since 2011, his most notable band would be the avant-garde, theatrical, multi-genred 10-piece The Leafies You Gave Me. An amazingly talented collection of artists, the group also comes equipped with props and costumes.
For his solo project, Goudreau had help from multiple musicians who offered their talents to play numerous instruments throughout the 17 songs. Among those musicians include Goudreau’s wife, Anna, and also Anni Casella.
“I started recording in the spring of 2019 with my co-producer, Anni Casella, who recorded, mixed, and mastered this project, while also playing synthesizer, electric guitar, bass, organ, keys and a bunch of other instruments on this record,” Goudreau said.
They put the record on hold for a year and a half during the pandemic, then revisited the project in October 2021.
“Most of the recording took place in 2022, while finishing touches and overdubs took place this winter,” Goudreau said. “All and all, it’s been four years from start to finish. Anni and I were half joking recently that it’s almost like we’ve graduated from a stage of life with this record.”
Goudreau’s tendency toward dark humor factored heavily in his songwriting.
“Within a span of a year (almost to the day) my grandma and my mom passed away,” he explained, “While I kept a lot of the dark humor moving forward, the theme of grief and compassion in the face of death became my main focus.” A few weeks after his mother, Cheryl, died suddenly, he wrote “Hollow Words.”
“That song is one of the most raw and unfiltered pieces of music I’ve ever written,” he said. “It was difficult to play that song live for a long time, but playing it for audiences was a healing experience that I needed at the time.”
The album’s opening track, “Sweet Ashes,” showcases Goudreau’s musical layers, his poetic lyrics and his vocal range.
One track, “The King of Shaving Cream,” was written during the COVID-19 lockdown while Goudreau was experiencing bouts of insomnia. “At the time, it felt like the whole world around me was slowly burning in a series of small, but ever-present fires,” he said. “That song was inspired by that period of dread isolation, which I’m sure many people can relate to.”
The track “Saint Agnes” really got to me. I had tears flooding my vision already, but this track came on and as I read the lyrics, they blurred even more. The song follows a woman’s life from girlhood all the way to her deathbed, asking the existential question: “What’s the point of this?” Goudreau answers: “I don’t really know / Life just is and so it goes / As we circle ’round the sun / And in 200 years no more memories remain / Of you, your life, and everything you make.”
The ending track, “Traveler’s Hymn,” is an a capella song with Goudreau’s operatic voice echoing off the walls of the recording studio. It’s chilling and beautiful, haunting and emotional.
We may not know what happens after death. Will we hear a song played for us at our funeral? If not, this is a song we can listen to while we are still alive. “Don’t be sorry when / Your story comes to an end.”
You can experience this album for yourself now at chrisgoudreau12string.bandcamp.com. Then there’s also a chance to cry in public and experience these songs live at Hutghi’s at the Nook in Westfield on July 14, and Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton on July 28.