…and now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.
Well this has been one hell of a journey. I’ve been inside for 56 days, and I’ve written so many little things it’s a bit mental. Mostly, I’ve felt cut off or lost; the spring playing theatrics at the window: thunderstorm, sunshine, blackbird, fledgeling, flight, and a bee.
Through the window comes the image of the first day:
A square of gold on crumpled white linen. A warm left knee catching the first few days of March sunshine. A sky clean as kitchen walls, and air the colour of breakfast, if breakfast has a colour at all.
I wanted Near Window to be an experiment in writing every day. I didn’t quite manage it, there’ve been about 20 days where I didn’t write anything for the blog. I’ve written a lot of things in the meantime, I’m still working on a big Olsen Mythos post, and I’m still working on rewriting the book. In a way, I feel like writing this every day has brought out, and brought about, more things that I was expecting. I’ve made connections to people I had never expected to, I’ve built something out of it, in a way. I didn’t think I’d find connection, when connecting was forbidden.
You know how, when you show your favourite films to someone, and it feels like you’re sharing all these little fragments of who you are and why you see the world the way you do? Or, like when you’re at a party, and you’re talking about music and you start talking about songs that form up your romantic viewpoint?
That’s what I feel Near Window has been for me.
Reading them back yesterday, on the last day of actual Confinement (though we’re still ostensibly confined) I was struck by the yearning I found therein. Such a simple feeling, desire. If the unconscious mind is a kind of theatre, as Deleuze and Guattari say, and that desire is itself based on a factory model, then the desiring-machine unleashed by my involuntary incarceration in this Parisian garret, is for the simplicity of connection. To be recognised, and to be understood. Like when you reach the zenith of a night out, and you turn to your friend and scream “i love you” in their faces, and feel the music enter somehow inside your lungs.
I wrote most often about friendship, about it being the last vestige of the divine in secular life. I wrote about dreams of a life outside of these four walls, and I wrote about letters reaching each other across the gulf of separation. What I discovered, through this writing, is that I am simply a common or garden romantic. I want to be wooed by the theatre of clouds, and by the theatre of my own desire. Is this desire destructive, though, as it is in the case of Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring machines? Does it destroy social assemblages in its becoming-machine? I don’t think so, I think it’s a strange hybrid assemblage that only desires the social assemblage after the moment of exit from those structures.
I don’t know, I think the desire for connection is the way to exist from those structures. My daily life, in which I flitted from one establishment to another like a pigeon searching for scraps, left me with no room to acknowledge that deep seated desire for actual connection with others. Being in a country that wasn’t my home, in which my skills at language weren’t good enough, and in which I often felt like a fish out of water, the desire to connect was perhaps an acknowledgement of the fact that I didn’t fit. Perhaps not fitting is already having exited, perhaps D+G would suggest pursuing the line of exit to its conclusion. Not for me, though. I want to be connected, even if it’s by arbitrary and loosening tethers.
I wanted simply to hold your hands. I wanted simply to have my hand held.
Near Window has been about putting my arm out of the glass to catch raindrops, or passing conversation, or blown kisses.
…and that’s all from me.
Keep your peepers peeled for the inaugural edition of Near Window 1: Confinement which should be coming out some time in the next week-ish.
It is raining so hard, and smells like iron. You know that petrichore smell you get in cities whilst it’s raining? It doesn’t smell the same when it rains on grass. I feel like crying. Have you ever looked at rain and just wanted to be it? Able to go anywhere, constantly cycling around the states of yourself: ocean, cloud, rain river and back again.
There’s thunder hammering somewhere and the light in my apartment has dimmed so that I can hardly see. I’m listening to Haim, and I’m supposed to be editing a section of the book in which I imagine that I found my dad in a park once on a summer morning, and cried at the imagining. It’s a funny thing to be tapped into how you’re always feeling at the moment. I feel a bit numb to myself, otherwise I’d be locked in my own cycle of existence without escape. I could stand in this rain for hours, I wonder if it would wash off all that sedentary feeling of being inside, I wonder if a little bit of me might travel with it: Rain, to river, to ocean, to cloud.
The face in the mirror isn’t my own.
The hands I write with don’t belong to me.
I’m a shadow, a shade, a passing cloud.
How did I make it here after all this time?
I imagine I was carried up the gulf stream by a storm, sent eastward by high pressure, and landed here like a forgotten train ticket left inbetween the pages of a book. Marks, MS – New Orleans, LA in between two pages of Light in August.
Is it spring or summer now? What is this storm? Have we crossed the boundary of the coming of the spring, and have i missed its passing through, like a freighter rather than a passenger service?
Last summer I went to Oxford, Mississippi to see a friend and she took me to Faulkner’s house. All day, it had been raining that hot, fat, Mississippi rain: big droplets falling on my face like finger tips tracing the outline of my cheek, rolling along the edge of my jaw. I’ve never seen rain like it. Not even this rain that’s falling now.
Faulkner’s house emerged from a green/grey mist, embedded in strong smelling pine or fir like a dream. It was quiet, soft, like foot steps through undergrowth. Hushed. The rain that hadn’t yet met the ground pattered over roof tiles, dripped resolutely from braches, whisered itself through the gutters.
In As I Lay Dying he describes rain like this:
They are big as buckshot, warm as though fired from a gun; they sweep across the lantern in a vicious hissing.
I didn’t think rain could be like that, but here I was seeing it. A real thing, big rain, mississippi rain. I think it changes the way you feel about it, if rain is always big, rather than the tiny little needles that try to burrow their way into your skin and freeze you to the bones.
Faulkner has another quote, too:
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home?’
I wish I were home. I keep thinking of the open expanse of my English Oxfordshire, resplendent in the May, the blossom coming in through the green, leaves newly minted shivering against the cold weight of English rain. In Paris the rain falls grey, like it would in any city. In Oxford Mississippi, and in the shire fields of my home, the rain falls green-silver into the landscape, mercurial in its affections.
I have nothing more to say today.
Just think of rain, coming at you like kisses, or like bullets, or like tiny little fragments of a world that exists without you, and away from you, and extended from you, and how lucky we are to be allowed to exist within it.
In my mind, this year was gonna be a white table cloth spread with breakfast for one. Eggs and avo on toast and freshly brewed coffee steaming, sunlight streaming through open windows juiliette balconetted with views of a small place. The trees outside would hush themselves in gentle breezes and the rooftops of the city would range away from me to a river and to hills and beyond.
It looked like a cross between an Instagram post and a Monet. Soft strokes and warm light, like waking up well rested, like seeing the world through a glass of rosé: tinted and tilted.
In a way it has been that. It’s been a dream I’ve felt like I was living through. I felt like my life was running through my fingers like water, like I kept trying to pull one out of an ocean of lives around me and coming out with nothing. I think, in a way, I’d felt that for so long that I became content to be taken with the tide. Paris has not been about floating with the tide.
When I was about 21, my uncle’s wife asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life. What a question to ask of someone so young.
At the time I said something like this:
I’m going to live my life by taking all its pieces and putting them on a table cloth. Then, every time I need to make a decision I’ll just flick the tablecloth and see where everything lands, and I’ll just do whatever feels right once the chips have landed.
That’s what Paris has been: putting the bits of my life onto a table cloth and flicking them into the air. This weird weird situation we’re all in has left me feeling like the chips still have yet to land. They’re caught in the air like clouds.
It’s clouds illusions I recall/ I really don’t know clouds at all.
I am feeling very at the brim today. It would have my been my parents’ 33rd wedding anniversary. I feel like it would have been a day they’d have spent together in confinement doing nothing much of note, like the day we’ve all had.
It rained all day. It’s a public holiday in France so I was thinking about how pissed off i would have been if I’d been working and had a bank holiday ruined by tempests.
Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” came on the radio. It’s conversational tones, and the sound of her voice as it sounds like it might break.
I told someone I didn’t love them anymore once beside a canal in London. It was about this time of year, and the sun was so bright it hurt to keep my eyes open. It hurt them to look at his face when I said the words I just don’t love you. Not anymore. I sometimes think of him when I hear this piece of music. It sounds to me like the earth turning under me, like water breaking against the canal walls, and like endings:
It’s love’sillusions I recall/ I really don’t know love at all.
This isn’t really a blog post, today. I’m sorry. It’s just me saying that I’m feeling alone in a way that I can’t express and in a way that isn’t assuaged by friendship, or by anyone really. Life is sometimes just lonely, and lonelier still when you wilfully upturn it’s contents because you’re tired of living it.
I wonder if the habit I have of picking up my life and rearranging its pieces is as a result of having had it rearranged for me when my dad died. I wonder if the process of flicking that table cloth feels safe to me because it’s a rehashing of what I’ve already done.
I keep thinking about all the lives half begun which have amounted to nothing. I keep thinking of the one life I’ve carved out for myself. life is rich and fast and then suddenly slow. At the moments of deceleration you’ve an opportunity to turn the viewfinder back on yourself. I’ve lived a life that was never the life I imagined for myself. I will continue to live a life that surprises me. I hope so anyway.
It’s life’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know life at all
This morning I said I’d get up, but I didn’t. I said I’d do work but I didn’t. I said I’d do a lot of things but I haven’t.
Instead I put on this song and danced in my room around the sunsquare, like the breeze coming in through the window, like hot coffee in the air.
Arm over arm dancing in euphoria thinking of all the times I’ve moved like this with someone else and realising that I much prefer moving like this by myself. Reason no.1 to be thankful.
Reason number two is that the song speaks to me so. About the way it feels to be inside, all these days as just one long day. Too much time to do anything, not enough time to get things done. All times are now, there is no now only always, there is no always except for…. except for what?
Time keeps on coming
I’ve been all around
I’ll keep on running
‘Til time catches on
I’ve been on the run
Except I’m not running. I’m inside. Windows flung wide.
Arms waving, body rippling like it’s underwater, legs out at an angle, sweeping under to project a leap to the corner of the room, I spin to face my audience of plants. They wave in the breeze, or in enjoyment, I don’t care which, I think it is the latter. The song becomes all songs, becomes heartbeat. Outside of my window I hear people cooking, I hear children in trouble, I hear a shower, I hear laughing. I do not hear my blackbird, still. They all make the song, the song becomes all of them.
My hair raises from its roots like I’m in antigravity. My arms become the boughs of a great weeping willow, my legs the swift river. My heart the beating hand of time striking my sternum as though to reverberate the ribs, my lungs the caged leaves , my mouth a furnace, my eyes two lonely headlamps on the shooters hill road. Fading, melting, passing through.
The song comes to an end and I am out of breath. I put it in again. Leaping like billy Elliot but badly, floorboards creaking slightly, carpet ruckled. I wonder if my sisters remember how I used to refuse to dance the steps they choreographed on our carpet, where moving from one flower to another was a significant move. It reminds me still of dancing to one ariana grande song on the dance dance revolution machine. It reminds me still of standing under a whole flock of swallows murmuring as they go to bed.
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, they move in the air like fish in water, a shifting mass of feathery bodies moving like one body. A murmur. My heart murmurs. My mouth murmurs, the radio murmurs. Paris murmurs. My body is my body and is a thousand swallows taking flight, a line of flight from the self beyond the wall. The french road for wall is mur. A double wall is a murmur. The music is a mur, I am a mur, together we murmur as swallows do. as I do. As moving is. As dancing does.
This time last year mum and I saw one at the quoits, the sky stained blue purple in sunset, the water rippling beneath like soft percussion, the wind still and the two of us holding our breath. When they feel overhead we wanted to spin under them, run with them, dance with them.
As the final notes play out through the speaker, the wind rattles the plants to make a rousing applause, a standing ovation, even the dead ivy on the sill rustles his brown leaves in appreciation.
The Roomba had mangled them, whirred over their edges and swept at their corners. The paper plains become crags and creases and trenches.
“Oh,” I said weakly, and sank to my knees. What metaphor was this? Half-done, half-loved labour in tatters? How to explain my grief for these squares?
My finger hovered over the first of the puzzles. I dreaded the feel of it, hated those contours. I tapped at a peak, it pricked me right back. I looked at my littered letters in valleys.
“You can still do them,” husband comforted. “We can flatten them out – they’ll be just the same.” But what of the folds and the scars and the tears? There is spirituality in perfect minutiae – in the crispness of bedsheets and pages and grids. This: the essence of the perfectionist’s faith.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My sin of carelessness had begotten this plight. On the floor beneath the window I had discarded companions.
Several hours later I took husband’s advice: they are squeezed between tomes, like flowers in a press.
Faith is delicate, like a crossword.
Et in Arcadia ego.
Megan is studying data science and is currently teaching machines about crime. She still loves words though, especially crosswords. She can be found on Twitter, @CrypticMeg.
Todays near window comes to you from the mind and music studio of Steve Tromans. it comes hand in hand with a beautiful piece of music that you can access here. Highly recommend checking out more of his work whilst you’re there!
This time last year I was resurfacing from a pretty deep depression. I know this because I remember, but I was reminded of it because my Instagram archive decided to display some choice pieces of last spring for me to look at. Most of my content last year was me waxing lyrical about birds or trees or light. Here’s one:
——— imagine here a brief hiatus in which I went deep on my insta and sent my friends photos of us from 2015 with captions like « omg so long ago » and other such vibes. I won’t bore u by including them here, but I can assure u that they’re good pics of me with varying lengths of hair and at varying degrees of sobriety ✌️it’ll probably be charged about in another vidéo -Apéro that I’ll have with my best pal sometime again this week (that’s drink wine & face time to u)
Anyway I spent an inordinate about of time looking at last spring today. Looking at the sun drenched, green robed fields of home. A ghost spring of recovery, silver streamed into my retinas whilst the depopulated spring outside my window battles the war for us. Paris occupied again. Here, there are two springs existing at once. One in my phone, one outside my window, and neither of which I am actually IN. The one in my phone is huge, i walked about ten miles a day with the dogs, over hill and down dale and across streams and through woods. I was documenting the wild magic of becoming. The one in reality small, one room, two windows, a courtyard, a corner of sky.
So many shots of chubby knees and heavy docs striding through fields growing progressively greener. Shots of the dogs running, begging, smiling, tongues lolling. shots of brickwork, of country pavements, of pub signage, or birdsong, or birds, or blossom, or blooms or new leaves. Where I’d been I’ll I’d posted relatively little. In coming back to myself in recovery I posted more and more. A minds eye view of both the return if the spring, and my return to myself. An almost « real-time » video essay: what does it mean to become in the season if becoming? An interesting question. One I have no answers for, except the list of shots I mentioned above. One which is still being answered as we never cease to become. Either way it is spring on my phone, and it is spring outside, and even though I am inside in my flat in Paris, in my phone I am running through fields in England. I am both. I am all.
In reality though this compulsive Instagram documentation is not a video essay, in that I have not consciously created it to have structure and form like an essay is supposed to have. More accurately you could call it a video notebook, like the stacks of notebooks at my mums and the two I have here that have every single thing I’ve ever written in them in pen and paper form. A video sketchbook: some light, some birds, some sky, a song I like.
I read a paper by Simon O’Sullivan called « Fictioning Landscape » (it’s on his website) about the relationship between landscape and fictioning in the form of video-essays. He particularly focuses on weird examples, that unpick the fabric of reality and posit weird fictions of the past and future within them. The examples he examines present a « porous border between fact and fiction » and insinuate a foreground of temporal shift; futures that won’t happen, pasts that didn’t quite. The notion of the then-spring encroaching on the now-spring implies a layered temporality, too: now-spring is all-spring.
O’Sullivan discusses some brilliant examples of audio-visual essays including Justin Barton and Mark Fisher’s On Vanishing Land and Victoria Halford and Steve Beard’s Voodoo Science Park. J would highly recommend looking them up – the book of voodoo science park is brilliant – highly recommend.
My friend, Josh Vyrtz, makes video-essays – you can look at them here. They each possess a kind of fictioned surreality, whether theyre about painting a landscape as toilet graffiti or sitting on a bench from 9-5. There’s a joyous kind of whimsy to them, that’s tinged with a melancholia, and a hunt that there’s some kind of Magic going on, links to external spaces, spaces outside of the frame.
Thé above photo is a still from my favourite of josh’s performance/video essays. It was about his dad, who died. About his own self discovery, and about learning about Switzerland where his dad is from. It was also not about this at all, but about vulnerability, and masculinity. In the film josh was himself and his dad and a plastic gnome. In the performance he was himself a cab driver, and a whirling dervish of emotion. It was a performance, an essay, a film, and a thing of beauty. To my mind josh was create a fictional past in which his dad had shown him Switzerland, and a future in which he had been shown. Fragile, vulnérable, wishful. It made me cry.
I’ve written a lot about music over the last few days; being inside all the time, it’s one of the few things I can always do without getting bored of doing it. This video essay of Josh’s starts very close to his face, like the moment at the end of a party when your smashed and on a sofa chatting shit:
« there are some songs which, when I listen to them, make me feel like the lead in a movie »
Cut to josh blue lit, by fountain, gazing around , telling us, conversationally, and in response to the obvious question « which songs? » the top five songs on the soundtrack of his life.
Cut to josh silhouetted against a pink dusk, London skyline rising jagged on the horizon, and josh freewheeling in his bike, bare arms conducting the symphony of a London bike ride: wheels ticking, bike creaking, wind blasting, river rushing. We don’t hear the songs he mentions, just the sound of the city, and of the weather. It’s joyful in its release, melancholy in its près back sonic element. It makes me ache for London, and ache for the outside, and for riding my bike. I don’t know why the lack of music makes it feel melancholy, like a dream. What do you hear in dreams? Music? Real life noise? Quiet?
Josh’s video essay turns the wind and the river and the bike into the soundtrack of his life, they become the music; that actual music may change that’s playing through his headphones, but the sound we hear never will. It makes a temporal shift. Josh will hear these sounds on every bike ride he goes on, and for someone who rides his bike almost every day pre confinement, that seems to me to be the true soundtrack of his life, if he ever manages to hear it. In the film josh makes the city an orchestra, the weather the symphony: himself riding no-hands-on-the-handlebars conducting the sky. The fiction here, though an aesthetic one – (re)making a conversation we’ve had before – enacting a freedom and joy of riding through the city in fine weather – creates a performance journey. One that exits real time and creates a « music-time » or a « film-time » as much is I created a « spring-time » within my phone. The film is saturated with residual emotion, and by not providing the music, Josh allows that emotion to speak for itself in the box of film time we can all dip into with an internet connection.
Both of Josh’s films that I’ve mentioned here are hugely emotionally charged. They both alter space-time and allow something to speak « not to us but to something within us » which is how fictioning works: creating a space-time in which the truth is made not true, and by which we can pro rated ourself on the plane of now. Whilst they don’t engage with the weird in the same way as O’Sullivans examples, they engage with a melancholia that seems ever present (I would call this grief-space)
like listening to a song u thought was happy but is really sad. Like Dancing Queen, or Boys of Summer, or Loaded by Primal Scream. Joy and melancholia: two sides of the same thing.
In these uncertain and tumultuous times, where the news is often based on « post-truths » it becomes « crucial to produce other and better » fictions than created by the state or the media « by which to orientate ourselves within our world.
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
“It is spring, that is to say that it is approaching THE BEGINNING”
Scrolling through Twitter at some god awful hour this morning I saw a green and yellow painting of daffodils. Mottled grey blue of sky and brown thatch of distant trees reminiscent of the arrival of spring in William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All :
Under the surge of the blue
Mottled clouds driven from the
Northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the
Waste of broad, muddy fields
Brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
David Hockney, confined in Normandy, has painted the archetypal spring view, reminiscent to me of Lent fasting, of school holidays, of spring fairs. Of the becoming and the returning of the spring; new and old at the same time. He’s called the painting Do remember they can’t cancel the spring. The painting is joyful, yet there’s a restraint in Hockney’s iPad stylings that isn’t usually there, a pared back response to the view he’s been presented with. Hockey in confinement paints in starker, more drab colours. There is no true joy in the coming of this uncancelled spring. The joy of yellow cannot combat the sadness of brown.
I went out today, into the quiet of a Parisian morning, cold edged air like the cracking of an eggshell. The streets are deserted as they never have been, everyone inside and fearful, but the morning is as glorious as any one I’ve seen. The sun barely up, the sky itself pale with its own becoming. I had that familiar loosening feeling, of the ending of the long winter, and the upward spiral into spring; and then I remembered I had one hour within which to move around, to buy bread and loo roll and milk and then turn on my heels for home. I was unreeling from my insides, but tethered to the safety of home. Out on furlough for eggs and bread.
A few weeks ago, pre confinement, Matt @xenogothic tweeted something about Caribou’s new album Suddenly, that resonated with how I felt about it: full of spring bops, but tethered to an innate sense of melancholia that seeps through the alum with every subsequent listen.
The album stakes its emotional territory lyrically, and through the clever use of windy samples in “lime”, or Sunday morning soul in “home” to place you in a memory, whilst making the moment of that memory happen in the present. In a google hangout yesterday my friend was talking of the semantics of nostalgia making the memory always already present, so its tatters to the past become meaningless almost in the act of remembering. Another friend with whom I’ve been writing letters has written some questions to me about this to, like :
How do you know what was real? How do you protect memories from new feelings that will ultimately twist it? How do you travel in time throug memory without altering the memory?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I don’t think it’s us who travels in time, but the memory. We’re always on the surface, weathered by the ghostly returning of past/future moments: spectral weathers (if you’ll let me name check my own book?)
Suddenly is suffused with memory, with a retrospective glance inward, and feels, when listening to it, like an album made inside someone who’s been listening in on pop music and has made an album that orbits it: not part of it, but born of it. Apologetic soliloquies to sisters, mothers humming lullabies, the four to the floor of the club still reverberating in your bones as you lie in bed waiting for the room to stop spinning, an elegy to emotion, and rawness. Dan Snaith (the man behind caribou), when he sings, seems to me like he’s whisper singing in the confessional, or right into my ear. The fragility of his voice caught in close miced glory, and more often than not without reverb or delay. Dry, soft, and conversational, like whispering in the night to keep anxiety at bay.
I especially get this feeling in “Sister”, the albums opener, where Snaith whisper sings:
Sister, I promise you, I’m changing
You’ve heard broken promises, I know
Like a conversation had late at night, in response to a sister saying they’re worried about you. The rolling progressional chords and steady heartbeat like rhythm seeming a metaphor for revolution, and not the kind of revolution that overthrows governments or changes the world, but the kind that turns the world again, continues the revolution of a cycle. It feels like a mirror held up to life in confinement; the beating of my heart, the tick of the clock, and the cyclical shift of the sun as it revolves in the room.
“You & I” has a sense of the opening approach of spring, the synth chords warm and bouncy like the first day you can go out without a coat on. The arpeggiated chimes that punctuate the verses and chorus sounding like sunlight through freshly grown leaves, calm and calming, yet its chorus and outgrown derail this feeling of warmth and comfort by pushing us into a feeling of high tempo anxiety, discordant rush, snatches of voice. The end feels like the upcycling of a Bond climax, all running and car chases and guns and thrill. A final sampled “Hey!” Echoing into the void before opening into the inherent melancholia of the opening of “Sunny’s Time”. The piano warped like an old record rattling on a gramaphone that you’ve left too long in the garage. The speakers are damp, and it sounds as though the sound has to travel through time to reach the present moment; from the becoming of its recording, to the moment of its hearing.
Spring whilst seeming like the happiest of new awakenings, freshness, beginning again, it also seems to be suggested with the melancholy of endings. There’s an old English folk song I heard sung once in my local pub by a man with no teeth that caught, for me, that sense of euphoric release; albeit one that knows it cannot last.
The primrose blooms, the cowslips too,
The violets in their sweet retire,
the roses shining through the briar,
And the daffodown-dillies which we admire will die and fade away.
These lines, in acknowledgement of the temporary nature of the coming of spring are reminiscent of the scant lines sung by Snaith in “Sunny’s Time”
It all found me since I’ve been gone.
I’ll be back when this is all done.
“Sunny’s Time” slides itself into “home” with a relative danceability. It feels like coming throug the door with a baguette, and an avocado and a box of eggs, the coffee on to brew, windows flung wide to let in the new spring breezes; but with the bitter sweetness of wishing there were someone there to spend that morning with you, and a particular someone at that. Like the first lonely Sunday morning after a breakup, when you’ve gotten past the getting drunk phase and your friends have deemed that you could do to be left alone a bit, you wake up with not much to do, and a wish to do not much with someone that isn’t satisfied by eggs on toast. It’s the beauty of a good morning undercut with a lonely melancholia; like putting on happy music that only makes you cry. This is further compounded by the sample of Gloria Barnes singing “Baby I’m home, I’m home, I’m home”. The final time you hear this sample, it’s cut short with a gothic cut off, sending an echo like a door slam into the following guitar chords, pitch shifting like a memory. It’s like someone’s last words, like they’re ready to tap out: baby I’m home.
Perhaps this melancholia is part and parcel of spring, a cruel season, in that it rips us raw: raw winds, on new skin. This is how the wasteland starts,
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
Like parents whipping us up and pulling back duvets to get ready for school, the world outside the cocoon of duvet is still too brutal, too cold, and too concrete. Winter, though brutal, is the season for dormant dreaming. I spend the three months of hibernation waiting for the spring, though – dreaming of bluebells. Is it as Emily Brontë says: that “there’s a spell in the purple heath” that burrows down inside us, “to wildly; sadly dear” that yearns for its partner found in springtime? Brontë mourns the coming of spring when she is without it. The “cold sun” with its “chill” beams, the “dreary sky” is “frozen”. The long winters make me feel this way, too. Chilled to my bones, warming myself at the first few rays of sun, almost kissing the daffodils and bluebells when they first show their bright faces above the mud. It’s driving me mad to be so separate from it. Yet even Brontë notes the “transient brilliancy” of spring, and of spring sunshine sliding swiftly over the garden wall. Spring is beautiful in its ephemerality. The Hauntology always revenant whose joy in arrival is tempered and haunted by the knowledge of its passing.
In “Never come back” the lines “and you never come back, and you never come back to” are repeated ad infinitum, it’s the feeling of losing the spring once it’s come, like being at the afters , intertwined on a sofa in someone elses’s house whose name you don’t know. Early morning sunshine beaming behind closed curtains, a sliver of dust filled gold breaking onto a table littered with beer cans and ashtrays.
In Williams’ spring and all, “dazed spring approaches” almost unaware of itself, with “the stark dignity of entrance”, dually reminiscent of Hilary Duff standing at the top of the stairs in A Cinderella Story, and of the procession of the cross at the beginning of mass, leading the priest from sacristy to altar.
“Magpie” from Caribou’s Suddenly is reminiscent of this duality, and of that tethered freewheeling sense I had walking to the boulangerie this morning; a loosening of the self, whilst still being tethered to home. The song wheels in circles, shining aurally like sticking an ear in a kaleidoscope. In a way it reminds me of the beginning of “Entangled”, the second track of Gensis’ A trick of the tail. At about the half way point, though, Snaith opens out the filter on the track, which takes it from 1975 to the present moment, and it releases you from the constraints of its first half. With the shift in tone, you’re released out into the depths of sound like into an ocean, or a huge crowd. The song de-isolates you, by disconnecting you from the self and connecting you with something outside of yourself, something that sleeps back to you, and almost cradles you.
The mood of Suddenly is almost entirely sweet, the chord progressions are so warm that, listening in my bed under a square of sunlight, I slip in between the grooves of the songs and hang there. Strung out on synths. Snaith’s control, and measured pacing, and restraint almost feels like he’s in confinement too. Like there’s something holding him back from unspooling himself into the tracks. That’s the feeling I had with some of the tracks on Our Love and Swim. In reality I feel like he’s in a space as small as mine, with the front door locked and the windows open only a crack.
The final track, “Cloud Song” is the only song that really embodies a release, a slack in snaith’s tight control. It opens with the close miced voice that seems to characterize the album, just him singing in my ears as the synths return to that cyclical pattern as found in “Sister”, the album turning and returning to the beginning as the chord progressions do. “When you’re alone with memories”, he sings, “I’ll give you a place to rest your head.” The place to rest your head is here. Not to be away from memory, but to converge in a collective practice of remembering. Dan Snaith’s personal traumas are writ large upon this album, but sung softly and quietly. His traumas become our traumas, and the act of opening them out allows us to share in them, and share ours within them.
The cyclic return of the chord progression is as smooth and azure as the water on Suddenly’s cover. Kaleidoscopic and rushing into the build of “Cloud Song”, the music slides in between me and the world: trills of synth like birds calling, or radio signals clogging the airwaves. Dissonant in repetition. Sliding.
“Nothing’s granted an eternity, nothing lasts it all will fade.
And yet it always ends too early.”
The spring outside the window rises like a Gershwin clarinet solo in response, so clean and clear I feel I almost pour out into it. What of the spring un-sprung, of the world unturned? Rather, what of the world turning without me, and me unable to break the winter chrysalis. Spring playing out there, and orchestra without audience – an unheard soliloquy – a film with the sound turned down.
The first spring of a new decade, unexperienced and lost. A necessary loss, one we must do, but a loss all the same.
In a way Caribou’s Suddenly is 2020s perfect spring/summer album. Seeking an escape, but confined. A spring sounding elegy to lost moments, lost memories, lost things. “I wish that you were here by my side”. “Do you ever miss me like I miss you?” I listen to it and I hear all the moments I won’t have, and I hear all the moments I am having, and all the moments I have had and will have, all existing in the cacophony of now.
In my apartment the spring turns his shoulder and shifts his weight away from the window, sliding himself into another crisp March night. The north wind blows chill through the window, and I close them. I put on “Sister” and begin the cycle again.