Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it[...] we [cannot] know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. - Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Ever since we evolved the creative impulse, art and grief have had an inextricable relationship. Music, particularly, is historically imbued by attempts to understand death and our innate anxiety with the concept of non-existence. They are those who write instinctively about death, and there's those who momentarily write against type and betray its ubiquity, such as Peter Gabriel and The Flaming Lips. Johnny Cash's famous cover of 'Hurt' - which presents its omnipresence with an uncompromising bareness - is problematic to value as being anything other than Cash coming to terms with his mortality, with a sagging resignation so jaded he's practically embracing his impermanence.

Within the past few weeks two breathlessly visceral records responding to grief have been released. Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree hovers with a disarming ambiguity, deploying the same mythic imagery, about red dresses and endless supermarket aisles, that perforate his discography, but they're nebulous branches of the album's demarcated heart, the death of Cave's 15-year old son, Arthur. By contrast, Touché Amoré's Stage Four is lead singer Jeremy Bolm's rejoinder to his mum's death by cancer and is entrenched in the distinctly personal minutiae of his trauma. Each, divergently, tackles the greatest unknowable we'll ever confront; but despite the aesthetic differences, they're both heartfelt, musically sophisticated, and authentically important.

Didion's void encompasses that grief experience, that punch-drunk, instantaneous and forever vacuum that slithers into the pit of your stomach before murkily consuming the fabric of your being so that your greatest passions and pleasures are drained of joy or meaning. Art compelled by death, by grief, is an articulation of the artist's inexpressible void which mirrors our own, and they are consequently our avatar. It's an endeavour to understand, to cope, and to communicate, which is why the best art means so much to us. It says what we desperately want to say, but are incapable of saying.

Nick Cave began recording Skeleton Tree with his wife, Susie Bick, and his son, Arthur's twin Earl, six months after Arthur's death when he fell from a cliff near their home in Brighton. Additionally, he commissioned his friend Andrew Dominik, director of Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, to film a making-of documentary, now in cinemas as One More Time With Feeling; and controversially in 3D. It's a collective project, one defined by an indelible intimacy so acute that it naturally makes many people uncomfortable, including Cave and his family.

In the documentary, Earl's response to being filmed is to reflect the intrusive lens, photographing Dominik, perhaps a meta-commentary on the frippery of physically documenting internal pain, but more likely a stroke of mature vulnerability. This awkward self-consciousness, this slight uncertainty over the very idea, permeates the record itself, and it services it beautifully. Inescapably, it's Cave's, Susie's, and Earl's words which both sting and enrich.

It's essential to note that, allegedly, Cave had written every song on Skeleton Tree before Arthur's passing, and had recorded early demos with regular contributor Warren Ellis; although Cave admits that each song is touched by Arthur. Any economy of language employed while discussing the death of a child is insufficient; it's an event of imperceptible awfulness. Acknowledging this, Cave resuming his comfort ground of gothic, pensive literariness is perhaps the most respectful and appropriate approach, and certainly the truest to his nature. The traditional incoherence of the imagery, especially in opener 'Jesus Alone,' seems impulsive, with whispish phantasmagorias of young girls, old men, and sea mists escaping Cave's sub-level register engineering an atmosphere of incalculably thick fog. This is illusory, however, as Skeleton Tree is discernibly structured.

Cave ostensibly bookends the record with the proclamation that "I'm calling you," evoking an unending, futile cycle of seeking meaning from tragedy. It's a fraught structure though, and the dynamic between Cave and his lyrics translates as tensely abrupt, as if perpetually capable of collapse. On 'Distant Sky,' a collaboration with Else Torp, he conjectures, "they told us our gods would outlive us/But they lied," a frank observation of mortality's transience uttered with insatiable acrimony. You can feel Cave stooping to glare you in the eye and pointedly exposing the world's harshest realities.

Skeleton Tree is elegiacally textured, populous with melancholic melodies and sweetly sentimental stylistic nods to past albums and happier times. Instrumentally it's less dense than most of Cave's oeuvre, with fuzzy synth drones and anachronistic drum machines, but it's a minimalism deftly befitting the thematic timbre.

For all his rhetorical erudition and storytelling flair, Cave's vernacular has never been excessively complicated, but it's noticeably and purposefully stripped down here. Arguably the album's centrepiece is 'I Need You' - its title bluntly redolent of candour. It's so sparse and sincere that analysis feels cruelly verbose. It's a reminder that behind the vacuity of grief and vindictiveness of anger is a love so intense and pure that it's debilitating; "Nothing really matters, nothing really matters when the one you love is gone."

'I Need You's' position in the latter stages of the album ensures it trips you up, the earnestness opposing the apocalyptic patois of the foundational twenty-five minutes. Skeleton Tree ends with Cave speculating that, "I call out, I call out, right across the sea, but the echo comes back empty, yeah nothing is for free." It's an epiphanic coda, recognising that even the most exhaustive introspection and spiritual investigation cannot open a dialogue with his son. It's upsetting, but also promising - a step forward educing the hope of coping while his love for Arthur endures, and therein lies the meaning he's been searching for.

Stage Four refers to the juncture of cancer diagnosis where the cancerous cells have spread from the original tumour site into surrounding tissues or organs, when a terminal prognosis becomes likely. Equally, it could allude to the five stage grieving process; where stage four is delineated as the depression phase. What's concretely apparent is that Stage Four is more immediately confessional than Cave's eulogy, and Bolm often addresses his mum directly. On 'Final Halloween,' Bolm observes that it's the menial flourishes which cut deepest; his inability to listen to "song two from Benji" (Sun Kil Moon's 2014 LP, with the eponymous song two titled 'I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love'); the muffled inflections of reciting a prayer he doesn't believe in; the shattering reluctance to listen to his mum's final voicemail.

Congruently, on 'Flowers & You' Bolm drowns in regret over a trivial argument he shared with his mother over her religious faith; "it was just a simple conversation about nothing much at all/couldn't keep me in the room I just kept on walking down the hall." We derive pleasure and pain from fleeting memories retroactively refurbished to adjust to our partisan narrative. Grief inspires revisionism which can elevate benign disagreements into turning points, and the self-inflicted compunction cripples us.

The most brutal example occurs on 'Eight Seconds,' when Bolm reveals his mum died during a gig, and a family member called him afterwards saying "she died about an hour ago/while you were on stage living the dream"; this is almost certainly Bolm's conscience infiltrating memory and incapacitating him.

Bolm evokes confusion and anger, too, as cogent side effects of grief. In 'Displacement' and 'Palm Dreams', Bolm confronts his mum about her obdurate faith in God and decision to move to Los Angeles respectively, issues that evidently tainted their relationship while she was alive and have manifested themselves as existential concerns for Bolm now. Importantly, he seems to develop some serenity. The defiant repetition of, "I know she's looking out for me/the way she said she would," which concludes 'Displacement', stresses his assertion that his atheism is compatible with a spiritual belief in his mum's immaterial omnipotence.

The final track, 'Skyscraper,' is a turbulent, soulful purge, with Bolm - accompanied by guest vocalist Julien Baker - expelling every toxic sentiment through the affirmation that even in the loneliest, most alienating city on the planet he'll still have his mum for comfort. 'Skyscraper's' music video shows Bolm pushing an empty wheelchair through a densely populated Manhattan, ending with him forsaking it in Time Square and absorbing himself into the crowd. People stroll past the chair without batting an eyelid, and the song - and record - fades out on an elongated distortion, and the literal voicemail from 'Final Halloween' plays, the one he couldn't bring himself to listen to; a profoundly humble gesture which crystallises some notion, however fractional, of closure.

Both albums juxtapose stylistically, but their deeper resonance is harmonious. It's true that cosmically - as Didion theorises - these human relationships and emotions are meaningless. But we don't live cosmically. We live in the evanescent specks of the cosmos, and within these paltry inter-personal spaces, these illogical, demoralising, wonderful relationships and emotions are inversely all the meaning we have. As Cave pontificates in One More Time With Feeling, "isn't it the invisible things, the lost things, that have so much mass, so much weight, and are as big as the universe?"

Skeleton Tree and Stage Four are purifying releases from remorse, from craving, from meaninglessness; they are essentially therapeutic, an attempt - no matter how futile - at acceptance. It helps the artist, as it helps the consumer.

In an interview with The Waiting Room, Jeremy Bolm explained, "I don't open up to people too much in regular life, but when I'm writing songs, I want to be as open and as honest as possible." That's because, against the psychic dangers implicit in confronting grief, art heals. From Candy Chang's touching Before I Die contemporary art installation series, to the widespread popularisation of WH Auden's Funeral Blues after its use in Four Weddings & A Funeral, art has proven itself an effectual coping mechanism, and a tangible method of vocalisation when silence is otherwise our only viable response.

The bravery of the artist to externalise both their naked anguish and eventual tufts of hope gifts us the capacity to therapise also, and that's so fucking important in coping, even if we can never reconcile. The void will always exist, but that doesn't mean it has to be meaningless.