Pure Anguish through Boundary-Blurring Music
The elusive Equinox debuts with It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin, which dropped last Friday after he teased his growing fan-base for over half a year with single after single. Though It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin is a grand feat of a debut, something about the very essence of who Equinox is, skirts around the boundaries of what it means to be a musician. Even as he has expressed his interest in music since his early adolescence, Equinox admits something many musicians are far too prideful to address: he cannot sing nor play an instrument. However, instead of seeing these technical obstacles as burdens that silence his poetic ideas, he gave full creative freedom to the musicians he recruited to put his dismal spoken-word to music. The result is a cornucopia of genres and individual quirks laid side by side, linked together by the melancholy and pain of Equinox’s hard-hitting words.
The genre leaps that Equinox takes are no easy feat. Even if he has left all musical elements of It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin to his collaborators, Equinox shows off his strong ear for curation and arrangement. He somehow manages to change from the quietly ambient “Help Me Please” (featuring Ashley Reaks) to the industrial trance of “Kiss” (featuring Feral Five) to the guitar ballad “Mule” without any signs of inconsistency. Instead, their edges blend together with a common love for synths, ambiance and punk without losing each collaborator’s own vibrant colors. All of these different genres effectively showcase how depression can be interpreted across cultures and peoples. Equinox takes his listeners through the climaxes and abysses of depression, emphasizing its cyclical nature through his clever arrangement of artists like Vince Clarke, Radio Europa and Deux Furieuses, just to name a few.
It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin starts out with the gentle anguish of “Help Me Please,” with almost no background noise, save for some ambient noises and light licks of an acoustic guitar. His desperate pleas to a God he does not believe in for guidance instantly set the tone for the rest of It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin. As he helplessly states, “I’m about to sin, and, drown in her bodies wealth” and “I know that I shouldn’t do these things but I can’t control my whims,” Equinox makes it clear that this speaker is no angel, with his own moral ambiguity going head to head with his conscience. In a post-Weinstein era, it is immediately questionable to hear of a man “succumb[ing] to lust,” with “the sexist housed inside of [him]…keep[ing] this image robust.” However, Equinox delivers the murkiness of these waters with such despair and conviction that it is impossible not to follow this speaker along the rest of his journey, though it is clear it will not be a happy one.
Thankfully, the woman in “Kiss” has a lot more agency than the speaker made it seem in “Help Me Please.” Backed up by the dark techno synths provided by Feral Five, Equinox’s speaker illustrates the seedy vices that he and his lover choose to partake in, as well as the effects it has on their minds and bodies. Shortly after praying to God for help and forgiveness, the speaker returns to his struggles with self-control and substance abuse, the nature of their relationship only pushing them further down a self-destructive rabbit hole. As the distorted strings and trip-hop beat of “Sarah Jane (Aftermath)” (featuring Ceiling Demons) comes on, these lifestyles of excess have wrecked its permanent havoc and take the speaker’s lover away from him forever. This leaves him alone with his suicidal thoughts, yearning to see her in the afterlife. By the time “Sweet Rose” (featuring Radio Europa) starts playing, it is obvious how his want of feminine energy has led him towards yet another vice. Here, he shares about his relationship with a prostitute over twinkling synths and a resonant, gentle drum. Though it sounds soft and beautiful and ethereal as newfound love always does, his pained words reveal the toxicity of this affair that leaves him “to decompose” after their time together. On It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin, Equinox paints a picture of the intersections between substance abuse, mental illness and romantic turmoil without any reservation.
Just as the genres spread far and wide, the subject matter of It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin spreads much further than just love. “Goodnight Vienna” (featuring Vince Clarke) is at its core a horror story: it painstakingly details the speaker finding his friend’s dead body after he successfully took his own life. Vince Clarke, of Depeche Mode and The Erasure fame, creates an intensely haunting instrumental of eerie piano triplets and spine-tingling rattles to accompany the dreadful details of “Goodnight Vienna,” such as when the speaker “swear[s] [his friend] smiled at [him]” as he reached for the suicide note. As his friend explains that the hardships of life were why he has taken his own life, the speaker also reveals his own potentially suicidal tendencies, feeling happy that his troubled friend “is at peace at last.” Equinox continues to depict his own depression on the rock ballad “Mule” (featuring Nat Lyon) and the helplessness and inactivity that comes along with it. He then contrasts it with the droning, electronic catharsis of “Scream” (featuring Pulco) that follows immediately after. As with every other moment on this album, Equinox bears the grimness of his soul on his sleeve for all to see.
Though It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin is undoubtedly dark, it has its moments of light as well. The first emergence of hope is on “How It Is – JAYmiX” (feat. Jay Stansfield), where it seems the speaker has finally found “a second chance” through a partner with none of the toxic traits of his past love interests. The gentle piano and light drums almost, but not quite, reach an emotional liberation for our troubled speaker. He is finally “Calm / Stable / Grounded,” having found a solace for all the trauma of the past. The album closes out on a similar note, with the soft piano and heavenly humming on “Belief” (featuring Will Harris) conveying the blissfulness of a religious rebirth. Growing attached to Equinox’s speaker and his tender Mancunian spoken-word while listening to It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin, this revelation brings joy and relief to all who have witnessed and listened to his struggles.
Was It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full of Sin a cleverly illustrated dystopia, or Equinox’s reality? As listeners, we simply cannot know, but what we do know cannot be more clear: Equinox is the voice of the dregs of society, spotlighting the raw humanity that accompanies their pain, pleasure, love and suffering for all to finally acknowledge.