Traveling With Headphones Series #2: “The Owl and the Tanager”//Sufjan Stevens

I’m not into generalizations that any one experience of a song is the “correct” one, but I will say this for myself: I didn’t understand Sufjan Stevens’ “The Owl and the Tanager” until I heard it live. The hanging on, waiting for each chord and phrase like an axe to fall—the bated breath of an entire auditorium filling the pauses in the performance—taught a well-formed lesson on the emotional and psychological uses of suspense; taught us that this is a song defined by its absences, a song made of empty space held together with tiny fragments of the universal, a song like an atom.

But this article isn’t about when I heard it played live. It’s about when I heard it for the very first time.

I had downloaded the All Delighted People EP with my Christmas iTunes gift card, because it was Sufjan and on my brother’s recommendation. I was in a car, my dad’s car, on the way home from a family gathering. After trying and failing to sleep in a leather seat with impeccable posture, I sank down into the crevice between the back bench and passenger chair, headphones on, first impression of the new album turned up in shuffle.

Totally enveloped in a general miasma of car—pressed between the seats, view of the ceiling part obscured by the bench, leather smell filling my nose—I felt, on the sensory level, both trapped and embraced. Sufjan Stevens’ vocal performance on “The Owl and the Tanager” sounds for all the world like a man with a silver flute for a neck and a bellows pressed against his heart teetering on the brink of tears, amber droplets shimmering on edges, not quite falling and not quite falling, while a mammalian piano rolls and stammers beneath them for six and a half minutes. The cavernous echo effect layered over all makes for consonants you can feel and taste in your own mouth, notes that rise and float away with devastating subtlety. I imagined I could almost see a soundless shower of grey and marigold-colored feathers in the darkness.

Sufjan’s lyrics are generally cryptic and you can find attempts to dissect them all over your nearest music-review forum—if the songs are really as personal and memoiristic as they sound, then by this point fans are likely to have produced the Complete Biography of Sufjan Stevens by sheer probability. In the case of “The Owl and the Tanager” there are more ambiguities than just who what and where—the lyrics are alternatingly vicious (“I punched you in the head, you only laughed and laughed and laughed”) and tender (“Slept in my arms, sleeping in the sill, I was sleeping in the room with you”). The speaker lurches from hollow-boned vulnerability—“trembling in the cage”—to the aggression of the first line I mentioned. Leaving entirely aside the debate of who the speaker character is singing to or about, their words place love and violence too close for comfort. They come from a place of present or remembered powerlessness.

For all the terror, the song’s remembered images are largely peaceful and beautiful—red blankets, billowing sheets on the line–the bliss of love endangered or dangerous, constantly teetering on the brink of disaster.

And there is that empty space. Every trill between verses, every pause between three-note phrases, is a comment on the cliffhangers of a cruel love. Each is a held breath. Each recalls the potential, in any given moment, for bliss or pain. Each is empty, absent of sound; yet each swells with the hope and dread of waiting.

I said this was about the first time ever, not the first time live. It is at this point in the essay that I discover that it is about both. Because the first time live, I was reminded of the first time ever. I remembered feeling both trapped and embraced. And I understood.

 

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In The Mountain Was A Mirror: Review and Analysis of Bat For Lashes’ “The Bride”

Bat For Lashes’ The Bride, released earlier this summer, begins with hope.

It’s an album about grief and the figure—the archetype, almost—of the bereaved bride. Its musical landscape speaks relentlessly of loneliness and absence—even its most exultant tracks sound sparse. Yet, as it combs through subtle shades and variations of its theme, it brings to life a story which so often ends with a ghost.

The hope that starts the album off is innocent, sentimental, rendered in the chalky pastels of a Cinderella adaptation from the early 60s. The music-box tones of “I Do” are rosily nostalgic before there’s really anything to look back to. The album’s central character is not yet aware that she is participating in an oft-repeated legend; she harbors the hopes that marriage plots are built around: with the magic words, “the sorrow will drop away.”

From all those cues of the fragile fairytale, the student of concept albums—of the cynical state of pop and rock music in general, really—might think (particularly knowing the album’s premise) that they know where this is going. This is the story of a bride who lost her fiancée to a freak accident on their wedding day, the early reviews tell us: we expect a shattering, a shock, a jarring disillusionment. But if you’re familiar with Natasha Khan’s earlier work, you know that that isn’t what she’s about.

Bat for Lashes is a project that is interested in the intangible—ghosts, dreams, memories, legends. 2012’s The Haunted Man explored the theme of haunting in all of its shades and meanings, from the account of a miraculous apparition in the opening “Lilies” to the tale of belief, grief, and ultimate release in the excellent bonus track “Daphne.” It is a work in which the audience careens through premonitions and flashbacks in a sparsely-furnished musical room where every word and sound is meticulously chosen.

The transition from the sweet, almost kitschily romantic “I Do” to the sincere yet spooky “Joe’s Dream” is a gradual one: the track comes in with synths reminiscent of an 80s power ballad, easing out the nostalgia with a shift to a different nostalgic era. Then the first graceful guitar chord breaks through with the mathematical roll of a wave in a physics lab. From that page-turn-like point forward, the album is not about idealized romance but events and people who could be real, and the dubiously-real, that is to say intangible, influences that surround them. As Natasha Khan’s translucent, pure voice narrates the groom-to-be’s prophetic dream, it is surrounded by otherworldly, hard-to-place sound; and by proxy, her characters appear as pawns of ambiguous forces: the imagery of “God’s searchlight,” the pleas of “don’t say goodbye” (standard and requited, but here, pointedly, futile).

Even the scene of the beloved’s death is softened, as if being remembered through a haze of trauma (or clairvoyance) as it happens. The choice to open the chorus–which describes the fatal accident–with the distant, almost denying lyric “What’s this I see?”, offset by glittering autoharp scales that recall a cartoon dream sequence more than a deadly crash, pulls a shimmering veil over the event itself. We seem to view his death through a crystal ball, distorted by time and subjectivity.

From there, the album moves forward with a progression that would make Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross proud, but it also takes care to cement what is happening, on the most abstract level, to our star-crossed lovers: she is creating a story of the love she lost, while becoming a story herself. The album’s consistent suggestion of romantic and gothic (in the literary sense of both words) imagery coupled with the constant of Natasha’s ghostly register calls to mind your wedding-dressed apparitions, your weeping women of the canyons—as, in the fourth track “Honeymooning Alone”, she leaves the church lamenting the figure she’ll become in the surrounding crowd’s minds (“I’ll always be the girl who was denied”) she is already the stuff of legend.

The spectral folklore figure of the lonely bride is humanized and sympathized here—the very next track after the decision to honeymoon alone is the feverish “Sunday Love,” whose slow, tired, fragile vocal descants over, wrestles with, a beat and melody that feel as if they’re simmering on the edge of anger, and lyrics that lash out at a beautiful personification of love in its holy matrimonial guise. At the same time, The Bride’s central character is, to the end, unapologetically melancholy, and never in a way that’s convenient or picturesque. She is self-aware and maybe a bit resentful about the archetype she inhabits—the latter dynamic most evident in “Never Forgive the Angels,” where, in a booming, rolling dirge, she seems to forsake the haloed view of love and fate presented earlier on in the story. Still, again, innocence is unveiled rather than shattered—though the musical element is assertive and ominous, the overall tone suggests a line drawn in a negotiation more than a wholesale rebellion. That comes later, gradually, and not without a fight.

The spare, cinematic “Close Encounters” takes on the familiar theme of haunting most directly, with a refrain of “I go to the other side” and with it the confirmation of the Bride’s awareness that her unsevered connection to her dead beloved connects her with that which has claimed him: death, memory, and the unknown. As she goes deeper, we get the entirely-spoken lyric dream sequence of “Widow’s Peak” and the first literal invocation of the ghostly widow figure—this time as a separate entity that our heroine, who here names herself as Bride (not widow), tries to outrun. Subconsciously, she knows that to be fully alive she cannot remain this thoroughly entangled with a dead man and a ghost-story narrative of love and loss. She rages against the legend built around her and “dream[s] up a door” to escape through. In the next song—“Land’s End”, where over a chant-like repetition of a simple guitar strum strings wrench their way up like birds from the ashes—she resolves to “drive ‘til I set myself free.”

Natasha describes “If I Knew” as “the true love song of the album.” “True” is the operative word. Rid of her ties and illusions after “Widow’s Peak” and strengthened by her resolution and seeking of guidance in “Land’s End,” The Bride thanks her lost groom for his role in her self-discovery in a heartfelt anthem to honesty and forgiveness. His memory remains, and remains treasured; but the unrealistic, and ultimately incomplete, ideas of love and the divine have been stripped away and replaced with the things themselves in all their complexity. Dreams and fairytales and children’s ghost stories have provided her the door with which to escape from themselves—and like a grown-up Velveteen Rabbit, love has made her real.

“Wrong or right,

you held me up to the light.

The mountain had a mirror inside.”

Aside from “Land’s End,” which is sung in a sort of determined mutter, this is the first track which uses Natasha Khan’s natural belt range, resulting in a much fuller, warmer vocal. It also has one of the most prominent, simple, and memorable bass lines on the album, running beneath a steadily rising and falling piano rhythm that gives the song its heartbeat. The result is that the narrator/heroine sounds more grounded, more real, more alive. The widow of ghost stories is defeated, and in the process, transformed. The haunting groom is reconciled with, reassured, and finally freed.

And this is the real strength of this narrative: it resists the temptation to vilify the lost love, the spirit-soaked landscape, death, God, the universe. It’s not interested in condemning love as futile, but not interested in presenting it as the solution to all sadness either. What it truly celebrates is not love but truth, in all of its forms (including as a separate entity from fact or objective reality).

In that spirit, it refuses to hasten its narrative of grief—this is an album whose triumphant, cathartic track is a slow, throbbing ballad that begins “One of these nights, one of these days, I will love again.” “In Your Bed” ties off the story with the traveling Bride home at last, but again, there is a refusal to resolve: mention of a home, a bed, a child, quitting the party scene for a quiet life with a beloved spouse—is this a flash forward to years later with a new lover and an old scar, or a backslide on a bad day, fantasizing about the impossible? Maybe it’s both. The opening directly mimics “I Do,” but now the music-box synth bells are joined by lush, earthy guitars and the new more grounded vocal style. There has been an evolution rather than an about face. Whatever is happening here, happy endings are still in the cards.

The final track, “Clouds,” returns at first to haunted scarcity—another meditative, unfolding strand of tune on the guitar, another high, thin vocal (although this time, not alone—it is joined by the voice of a child). The setting is dim, domestic and overcast, permeated with the memories of the dead—now a familiar, unobtrusive, even comforting part of life. But midway through, the strong rolling-thunder bass that marks The Bride’s crystallization of identity in the climactic tracks returns, under an ecstatic—and I mean that in the religious way—swell of voice that speaks of rain (replenishment, resurrection) and “heavy grace.” We are left in a setting where the absence is still impossible to ignore—it is as cavernous as the spaces in the minimal soundscape—but it is accepted and even fertile. Clouds obscure, but rain brings growth.

Bat For Lashes’ The Bride ends with hope.

Traveling With Headphones Series #1: “Did You See The Words”//Animal Collective

At the height of my career as the most middling violinist you can imagine–fourth chair, second section, non-audition high school string choir–the entire school music program was invited to Disney World for some kind of youth-arts workshop that I now admit I remember very little about. The upshot was that we were allowed onto a charter bus to Florida for the price of some hastily sold wrapping paper and driven straight through the night under the admirable discipline of the orchestra director, who Expected the Bus to be Quiet by ten p.m. In reality it didn’t happen until around one. And for better or for worse, in my brain, it didn’t happen at all.

I can’t sleep in cars. I learned on this trip that I can’t sleep on charter buses either. I sat bolt upright for hour after uneventful hour, the combined music students and faculty of my high school evenly breathing in round around me as the advancing headlights outside grew sparser and sparser. By 6 a.m., it seemed we were the only ones on the road. As we crossed the Florida state line, having passed the last two hours listening to Beirut’s “Mimizan” so many times I’d almost forgotten other music existed (it’s a great song, okay?), I queued up Animal Collective’s Feels.

This is one of those albums that simultaneously sounds exactly like something its artist would produce, yet is also somehow like nothing else in their catalogue; an instantly noticeable contrast couched in familiarity, like old furniture in a new house. It’s hazier, less punchy–echoing ombré sounds that fade and wash together. Amidst the wash, the sound of the out-of-tune piano around whose notes the songs were devised sparkles like an electrical current.

The second sound you hear in the opening track–the rain-swelled trickle they titled “Did You See The Words”–after a metallic drone that races to the fingernails in wait for what’s coming, is that piano, embracing a guitar so tightly they melt into one under the hot sun of reverb. The notes settle winglike in a repeating cascade, inviting the pulling back of saliva, the gentle flow of the mind. It was at the moment this hit my half-sleeping brain that the highway bent eastward.

With such suddenness as to take the breath the windshield was filled with a glowing peaches-and-cream sky, the scenery-panel blankness of early sunrise, folding itself down behind track-sliding silhouettes on the distant beach. Black cutouts of palmettos studded its pale expanse. An otherworldly splash of orange light stained the interstate, overcoming its orderly momentum with the feeling of a dream.

When the reedy hush of Avey Tare’s voice began, “Have you seen them?” it felt as if he was telling me a secret. This was a version of the world that so few human beings ever saw–it belonged only to the fishermen, the bakers, the delivery people, and beyond them, beneath their feet, to the dawn-chorus birds, the feral cats, the night creatures returning to their hiding places. Which hour is it, that photographers call magic?

In the tiny bubble universe between the headphone speakers, the drumbeats coursed like blood. The lyrics were folded in cymbal crashes like splatters of ink curling away through clear water, speaking of, invoking, really, the mysteries of inspiration.

I had heard this song before, but not like this. In its quiet exuberance I could feel the breath, in and out and in again, of something sleeping down below the fabric of waking life. There are worlds in us and there are words in us, in all of us, waiting for the single stone’s shift that will send them gushing forth onto the floor. The dream, the conversation, the stranger’s face, the lover’s touch, the song, the sunrise. We all have our art, even if that art is just living, and often without noticing, we live trembling in anticipation of the moment we put the first paint stroke down. It took a tremulous piano riff running down my spine to bring that to the surface.

Around its anchoring rhythm, “Did You See The Words” is imprecise. There is the de-tuned piano, the sense that the parts don’t quite go together perfectly, shifts in tempo moving at last to the gradually slowing conclusion. This childlike messiness evokes creativity at its most ecstatic, its most spin-around-and-fall-on-the-floor, its most purely joyous. When the words come dripping down, it says to me, throw your umbrella aside and catch them in your mouth.

When a moment connects us with the buzz of being alive in this quiet and electrified cosmos, there is no way to respond but with beauty of our own. This is what art, in all its forms, is: call-and-response, melody and harmony, stories around the sacred fire. The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.” Every time I hear this song I remember this moment, when the world offered itself, placing its blank canvas before my drowsy eyes.

Yes, gentlemen of the Collective, I have seen.

A Shot In The Light (Review & Analysis for the Hamilton soundtrack)

I resisted for quite a while, as I usually do with things lots of my friends like, out of fear that I would be disappointed and fail to connect. But all of you were right. It was only a matter of time. I’ve fallen (in the sense of intellectual prostration, although I will confess there were times during the first listen that I literally laid down on the floor) to the Hamilton soundtrack.

Like the overwhelming majority of fans, I haven’t seen the musical actually performed–tickets for that are now booked presumably into the next decade. I’ll make my analysis as if it were a concept album.

A 46-song concept album about Alexander Hamilton.

Which sounds exhausting, but out of all the albums I’ve been introduced to this year, none have been quite so energizing, invigorating, really, as this soundtrack. I understand what people are talking about when they say Hamilton re-awakened their ability to feel patriotic. It’s a potent cocktail of subtle narrative magic tricks, melodies that will stick in your head and then later on stick to your ribs, and lyrics that seem built of words made to stand together, as inevitably combined as a “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” Before it concerns itself with doing the unexpected, indulging in its own complexity, or painting in the spaces the words leave off (there are few of those, in this case), the music itself–that is, the sung melodies and the instrumental parts that back them–aims to tell the story.

And for this C+ American history student at least, it unequivocally succeeds. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the bogglingly multi-talented mind behind Hamilton, has produced in addition to a standout libretto a collection of musical arrangements that put you, emotionally and psychologically, in the moment. When I listen to them I feel close to a time when democracy was a radical, deliriously exciting idea, rollicking forward in all its compromise and imperfection from the feet of a population starving for justice. I feel a sense of intense possibility, an electric charge around me, a quasi-physical knowledge that upheaval is not only possible but probable.

And just a few tracks later, I can feel what makes someone look at all that and decide to hold back.

The musical’s central conflict, appropriately enough I suppose, is between Alexander Hamilton–who you may know from the ten dollar bill–and Aaron Burr–who you may know as the guy that shot Alexander Hamilton. The narrative is aware of this contrast in legacies, and in fact shifts it into sharp focus as the two characters move in opposing directions, only to come to an intersection in the end. The music signals this movement in subtle yet deeply resonant ways, challenging the audience at the level of the barely-conscious to place themselves, to the point of total immersion, in each man’s mindset.

Songs centered on Hamilton, prior to a certain point, are fiercely directional. From “My Shot,” which sets up most of his musical and lyrical leitmotivs for the rest of the soundtrack, until climactic scenes much later, his declarations are backed up by relentlessly upward-climbing riffs, powerful bass lines, and beats that pulse like a fever. The melodies move as dramatically as the ambitious Fedaralist’s fortunes; every crescendo feels like an epiphany, every sudden silence feels like the floor dropping out. My favorite Hamilton-focused track, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”—in which he commands a battalion for the first time in the final battle of the war for American independence—is as urgent and forward-pressing as the bayonet charges it describes (feel those string riffs like a whole bank of elevators, perfectly ordered around your spine!) until a sudden fall to silence, like smoke clearing, around the 2:30 mark. We are there in the nervous system of a revolution, feeling every impulse that comes through tingle in our fingers.

But you feel for Burr too–when he’s telling his side of things, the music is steady, contemplative, subdued but not without complexity of expression. The piano part in “Wait For It” rocks back and forth, ruminating and repeating, suggesting the turning over and over of something. Leslie Odom Jr.’s voice pulls past every note like a silk ribbon in a maze, lending a lulling drag, a hesitant beauty, to his character’s expressions. Every moment of the song–in which he describes the unstoppability of life, the inevitability of death, and the value of his parents’ legacy as justification for his policy of biding his time–is tenuous and reflective, considering a single point in depth rather than ranging wide over the musical and philosophical landscape.

One of Burr’s most dynamic songs (although it’s still a very different flavor than Hamilton’s dynamism) is “The Room Where It Happens,” which also happens to be a pivotal moment for him both as a character unto himself and as a player in Hamilton’s biography. It’s quiet but full of flourish; Burr’s hesitating back-and-forth piano riffs begin to skitter frantically in place, and then, as the song progresses, move out of place and back in with breakneck speed, as if putting an experimental toe over the line and then pulling it close. In the scene surrounded by this music, Hamilton concedes to adopt Burr’s philosophy of compromise (“talk less, smile more”) in order to get his plan for the Federal banking system through to congress. After a secret meeting with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, “the immigrant emerges with unprecedented financial power, a system he can shape however he wants.” It’s at around this point in his rundown of events that Burr’s backing track begins a subtler, cooler version of Hamilton’s repeating upward-climbing riffs. As the song progresses and he realizes the influence his formerly “young, scrappy and hungry” friend/rival has just begun to wield, Burr accuses and is accused, receives a demand to cop to his ambitions, breaks under the pressure. Everything goes incredibly quiet. It’s just Leslie Odom Jr. and a few sparse string plucks again as he admits that what he really wants is “to be in the room where it happens.”

His earlier assertions in “Wait For It,” that everything save for himself is out of his control, feel very far away in this moment. He doesn’t want to give up control anymore. He’s tired of waiting. The lyrics don’t tell us that, in explicit terms. The music is what gives it away–it grows faster, wilder; its pauses and chord changes become more drastic; it rises to an impassioned pitch with the character’s grittiest vocals yet ringing out in sharp contrast to his earlier tones–and it ends with a gunshot, foreshadowing the duel that will change Burr’s life and bring Hamilton’s to an end.

While they have Miranda’s brilliant lyrics with which to explain themselves, it is the whole pieces that really tell Hamilton and Burr’s stories, and that serves as a grand reminder that Hamilton’s messages about legacy loom large and technicolor in the arts. We are connecting with these people who have been dead for over two hundred and fifty years, or with their memories, or with the ghosts and golems their words and accomplishments summoned; and furthermore we are connecting on a level deeper than thought.

The conflict between the Aaron Burr “wait for it” philosophy–which forfeits agency in favor of security–and the Alexander Hamilton “not throwing away my shot” approach–which risks personal disaster for the sake of the big dream, principle, ambition, and posterity–is immediate thanks to this factor. You feel the urgency of Hamilton’s brilliance and the hard landing of his fall from grace. At the same time you feel every big and little reason why, in the end, he does throw that shot away, fatally, to the sky. The promises broken, the enemies made, the blows leveled in that bid for the history books. It’s the fundamental tension of the phenomenon we arbitrarily call genius.

Hamilton is about many things, specific and universal–but I believe that in large part it is about that: the meteor flash of an eloquent, passionate life and body of work, as it unfolds in this imperfect meritocracy born of rebellion. A mind forging sound and language into something that will last, and hold, and inspire and inspire and inspire. I wouldn’t say I’m quite patriotic about it, but I am just exploding at the ears that that kind of stuff still happens right here every single day.

Intents and Purposes

I’m inaugurating this blog with a decisive, potentially divisive statement–an assertion of personal belief; a creed, if you will. It may seem like an arbitrary place to begin. But this one belief sums up the trouble I have with the way we discuss music on the internet and elsewhere, and encompasses my reasons for adding my voice to the throngs already engaged in that discussion.

Ready? Here’s my hill to die on: the worst thing you can possibly do to an album is rate it.

I’m fully aware that most people don’t see it this way, since the most popular music reviewers on the web all assign numerical measures of quality to the art they analyze, and sites challenging their users to rank their own record collections on a similar scale continue to see booming traffic. But despite the popularity of these methods, I can’t stop seeing them as depressing at best and violent–even sacrilegious–at worst. It’s too simple; at once too mathematical and too arbitrary; and always carries the implication that it’s intended to be a sort of final verdict on an experience that no two human beings will ever have the same way–that even a single human being will never have the same way twice. It makes no sense to record a probability of enjoyment, like the final data of a rigorous experiment, when in reality, the results can never be replicated. In this sense, music is closer to alchemy than chemistry–the measures are not exact, the ingredients are shrouded in legend and obliquity; the outcome depends on the circumstances, the hands that prepared the solution, the presence or absence of God that the treasure-seekers bring to the table. And it’s uncertain. Even a five-star album may not speak to you. Even a critically overlooked single may make every speck in your body sing. You can never know if you’re going to get gold.

There’s no sense in arguing that all music is uniformly “good,” of course. There will always be some works that are obviously lacking in effort, sterile of imagination and light on artistic investment. And there will always be highly celebrated, even innovative works that leave you, personally, cold. But even these, in the case of music, have the potential to be rich with pleasures and personal meanings that can never be expressed in a simple number, or even in a written opinion. In the end, all there is to say about music is “it sounds like this” and “it made me feel this way.” I believe that a music reviewer’s ideal goal should be to describe those two elements as accurately as possible.

Further, I believe that accuracy in the discussion of music demands the use of the poetic. To simply compare one artist’s sound to other artists’ is a useful tactic for selling records to established fans of other acts, but only takes a description of an interaction with art so far. In the case of something truly original, it often does the art a disservice. Attempting to illustrate the experience with a creative and strategic use of language, image, and metaphor also has its limits as a method, but it is a way of answering art with art, of turning analysis into a conversation instead of a comparison.

I want to talk about music in a new way–a way that illuminates its magic rather than taking it apart, a way that allows for the highly subjective, deeply personal, democratic, and universal nature of the way it affects us to remain only minimally touched by these boundaries of language and critical evaluation.

While I write this, I’m listening to Yeasayer’s 2007 All Hour Cymbals. It’s warm and wild and full of shafting sunlight, the sound of a deep forest layered with a million years of life and death. The bass gets in the bones, free-tumbling and animating; the vocals float in the distance like a campfire singalong you’ve stolen away from. I can tell you that you might like it if you’re a fan of Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs or tUnE-yArDs’ whokill, but so can the recommendation algorithm on the iTunes store. Instead I’ll tell you that this album is a soundtrack of explorer’s daydreams–blending the new frontier with home, firelight, community. I’ll tell you that the last lines of this album are “In my short life, I have met so many people I deeply care for,” and they are surrounded by a steady and beautiful rhythm that makes them ring truer than any coin or sword, and it is so comforting, and so healing, that something so simple and familiar can still be said in a way that feels profound, that strikes you, that wakes you up to it. This is how it feels to be me, sharing this intimate moment with a songwriter I’ll never meet.

That’s all I can say, all I have the authority to say, what I have the humanity to say. But maybe it will help someone else uncover greater beauty.

I believe that art has the potential to touch our whole being, the physical and the non-, the going water and the gone, the hairs on our arms and the constellations inside us. I believe because it has touched me. And I don’t know what I’m going to do about it.

But what I’m not going to do, what I’m never going to do, is send a number to do a tongue of fire’s job.