Eight years ago this month, at the age of 25, I found a massive lump in my neck and was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer shortly thereafter. I was never given a prognosis, but was told that a recurrence – even after a surgery, seven months of chemo at high doses and 30 intense radiation treatments – was likely. While that never happened, I lived in daily anticipation of my cancer’s return for years and while it’s faded, some minimal side effects are still with me and part of my life today. Because of that experience, I think I probably live with a sense of my mortality more than the average falsely invincible Gen Xer.
When I think of the soundtrack of the days that followed my treatment when I had to start living a “normal life” again, wondering what was happening in my body, I typically think of the old hopeful Puritan gospel songs I used to listen to during that time. But this week when NPR released a First Listen of While Lighter (Amazon MP3 & Spotify), the new album by Portland-based orchestral folk pop band Typhoon, my soundtrack for that era got a few more songs.
We fell in love with songs like “CPR/Claws Pt. 2” and the honest writing of Kyle Morton in Typhoon back in 2011 at Newport after the band emerged at SXSW that year. But back then we didn’t really know the story behind the music. Morton was diagnosed with Lyme disease at a young age and missed many years of his life as he experienced multiple organ failures and a kidney transplant from his father. Now 27, Morton says his experience has been a foundation for his writing, but it’s not in the way that people typically write about the trials of life.
“The illness itself offers a tempting narrative hook, but while it is romantic to dwell on the individual suffering, what matters is the universal implication: Once on the other side one finds that there are no sides, that there exists no great partition between sickness and health, only various stages of dying and various ways of surviving that death.” – Kyle Morton, Typhoon
On the band’s Facebook page, all that describes them is “death affirming.” I’m not sure I’ve listened enough to say that I align with the overall perspective on the album, but definitely identify with the idea of an ever-present sense of mortality. It’s authentic and there’s a better life that comes from it. The theme of an adventuresome survival that drenches the album is my lifestyle. Morton calls the record “a collection of seminal life moments, in more or less chronological order, glimpsed backwards in the pale light of certain death, brought to life by a remarkable group of people who hold as I do that the work is somehow important.” Intense.
Musically, White Lighter is pure gold. It’s a gorgeous adventure of music from start to finish with perfect instrumental intros and closers that bridge from one song (or chapter) to the next, crescendo choir-like choruses and some damn fine horn blowing. Set against Morton’s voice and the lyrics that reflect on his trials, the album is one of my favorites of the year.
White Lighter (Amazon MP3) is out August 20th, but in the meantime you can soak in the album in its entirety on NPR. In addition, here’s “Dreams of Cannibalism,” one of my favorite tracks on the album.