Outside the window a blackbird is singing with such tenacity and gusto that I feel like crying. In the drawing evening, i have Henry Jamison’s new record on. The blackbird outside sings as though to accompany him. I am listening to him sing like the world is ending, or like it’s beginning. I’m not sure if I’m talking about Jamison, or the blackbird.
I wasn’t going to write today, but Henry Jamison released a new song: “Atlantis” that pulled me out from my hungover stupor and forced me to put pen to paper.
His 2019 album, Gloria Duplex, soundtracked the summer of last year, with “Boys” and “True North” being stand our favourites; but the truth is there isn’t a song on that album I don’t like. Lyrically Gloria Duplex addresses contemporary themes of toxic masculinity, what it means to be a man, and to be a person existing under capitalism. The form of Gloria Duplex mirrors the lyrical narrative too, in becoming so much more than just another folk record with a guy and his guitar. But today’s Near Window isn’t about Gloria Duplex, it’s about “Atlantis”, a track released not more than half a day ago at the time of writing. Where Gloria Duplex’s production soared into an ocean of sound, and samples, and really pushed at the boundaries of what a folk record could be, “Atlantis – Demo” brings Jamison down to the ground. Mostly because it’s a demo, but also because of the close miced nature of Jamisons voice, and the soft fragility of the song’s phrasing.
The track opens with a harmonica playing a single note, reminding me implicitly of lonely midnight scenes in prison movies, a lone prisoner against a barred window, the drawing dusk encroaching on the single cell, and the sound of a harmonica soaring upwards.
This is an interesting image to open with, considering Jamison wrote “Atlantis” on the second day of confinement. It really speaks to a sense of isolation, of the world crumbling outside the windows.
The song opens anxiously:
I wonder where they’re going?
“What do you know about power?” She said
All there is worth knowing.
Yet the melody and lilting guitar betray a kind of jaded apathy in the face of this, that is reflected in “I used to think I could Change the world”. I am torn between describing the melody as apathetic, or as being indicative of us all having been lulled into a sense of false security. The dual chord progressions, and the steady pendulum swing of the tempo; it all comes around again, it’s relentless, there’s nothing you can do.
But then comes the chorus, which feels like a complete rebuttal of this:
That’s how Atlantis fell
Into the rising sea
Everyone looking around saying
“Hey, no, don’t look at me!”
These lines are angry, exasperated. They speak, not only to a sense of climate anxiety (in using the myth of Atlantis) but also to the general apathy we all feel. No one has the answers, but there’s always something to be done. “Hey no don’t look at me” is so indicative of the way many leaders initially responded to the current crisis (I’m looking at Boris Johnson here). The image of the sea rising so relentless too, no one reaching out to help, everyone holding their hands to themselves. I’m not sure if this is truly the experience of people down on the ground. I’ve seen more kindness and experienced more community in the last few weeks than I’ve seen in a long time. But the apathy at the situation is palpable, as is the desire not to be apathetic. Jamison seems to be reiterating a point: if we fall – when we fall – no one will know what to do. It’s our job to help each other, even if we don’t have any answers.
The second verse, in Jamison’s typical stream of consciousness lyrical style, has further detached itself from the events happening around them. “Over my head”, “didn’t get a word”, “something about apocalypse”. The rising tide of the melody builds for a chorus that he follows with a second look at me:
Hey, no, don’t look at me!
Look at me.
Don’t look for answers here, but please god don’t stop looking at me. It reminds me of the “imagine” video – each and everyone of those influential faces getting off on appearing to do something without doing anything. Don’t come to me for help, but please do watch me perform some vocal acrobatics on one of the most overplayed songs of the 20th century.
Sitting at my kitchen table in the drawing in of a Parisian dusk, alone, save the blackbird singing so sweetly on the chimney pot opposite. As Jamison’s lonely harmonica rises into the air, the blackbird joins him in giving voice to anxiety and apathy in equal measure. The sound of both together makes me feel nostalgic, and sad, and worried. I close my eyes and sink into Jamison’s generous harmonies, and sumptuous production. I feel swept into the momentum, carried along by it: I completely buy into it’s feeling of isolation and detachment.
But it’s a song of two voices. The isolated voice of the verses, complacent, and detached; and the angry, anxious and warning voice of the chorus. On his Instagram, Jamison says that the song is a kind of protest:
Against complacency in the face of the worlds immense challenges, against the feeling in [him] (and many others) that there’s nothing we can really do after all.
The song has a mythic quality to it. Like it’s come to us from a time outside our own. A myth transcending the fabric of the world, to offer a warning, and to show us what has happened is what could happen. It’s not a message of hope, but it’s a message of knowledge: Beware
“That’s how Atlantis fell”