I’m alone in my flat on a Friday night. I’m chasing, trying to catch moments. I’m writing; I’m feeding my mind with music. Somehow I’ve found myself back with Deep in the Iris, like an old lover. It’s a muse I know won’t fail me.
Between November 2014 and June 2015, I was so depressed I couldn’t fall in love with music. I could still hear the sounds but I couldn’t feel a thing. It was like going deaf. The only artist I could listen to and still love was Elliott Smith, who I’d found the summer before (15 years after everybody else). Listening to new music was like hearing a baby cry in the distance; it irritated me because it felt like it was demanding something from me that I couldn’t give, and that depressed me further, because it took away my favourite solace. I wrote this poem dedicated to Drew McConnell, who I’d listened to through my last depressive spell when I was a teenager:
just drew there staring back at me
a desktop background symphony
of modest masculinity
of leather, buttoned shirts and jeans.
i hear you, like it’s still ’08 –
i hear you drew, the music’s great
both of us drawn to this sad state
between neutrality and depression
cathartic dark recording sessions
capturing your plaintive sound
oh drew when did i go to ground
when did my love of music cease
to be enough to give me ease
when once your breathy voice brought peace
that time music was just enough
life full of narrow easy stuff
thats when i first unwound with love
for you the character i once knew
oh drew, what did time do with you
or maybe i should say what did it do
Elliott was the only musician who could break through the wall of my new depression. I’d lie in bed listening to the church bells from the convent next door, and then I’d listen to ‘Last Call’, which has a verse about lying in bed listening to church bells and feeling entirely shut off from the world. I worried myself. I thought I’d never love music again. I forgot what it was like to be courted by sound.
I started to recover in June, after my Finals exams ended. One of the first signs I might be getting better was a renewed appetite for listening to music. I surfed Drowned in Sound’s Best Of lists for something I might want to explore, and found Braids almost instantly. I started listening to Deep in the Iris and got hooked: ‘Happy When’ described exactly the “sad state between neutrality and depression” that I was emerging into (the murky entrance-way to the cave system I’d been hibernating in for 6 months).
“And that I’ll be happy when
this happens or that becomes,
or it is finished and I am done.
Oh, what an idea.”
There was something so subtle about it – the way the samples and the keyboards played out between the frenetic drums, and the way the singer’s voice swooped from hard, tough yelps down to delicate near-whispers and never once lost its way. I started to feel the old urges: to play my music on the street and the bus; to sing along loudly in my room; to put certain tracks on repeat until I got sick of them and then come back and do it again later; to recommend the band to everyone; even to dance.
Falling in love with Braids was exciting, partly because it was a reminder of my old self. It helps that Raphaelle writes feminist lyrics, and that the music is so good. But it was a reminder for me that music is just broken air if it’s not got a listener to order it into beauty.
Now I’m at the stage of our relationship when I sometimes forget how Braids and I first hit it off. Having a few minutes alone with ‘Blondie’ is always a reminder of why I love them.