I don’t reckon you need another Valentine note this week. God knows, with your bouquet of a debut in all the writers’ laps, you’ll rake in a two-foot tall pile by Friday. Everyone loves you, Tim – you realize that, right? Or, at least, everyone who got caught in the riptide of Ought and flounder still in those tempestuous seas.
And I love you, Tim. I’ll admit that now. I can’t count how many times in the past year that I’ve turned to you for hope, for solace, for some assurance that there was this pain in existing, and that I wasn’t alone in feeling lost.
But! This is not a love letter, I promise. I want to be as honest with you as you are with us. And truth is – well, I’m happy that you’ve found your comfort zone, your sweet spot of American indie rock and slow ballads. You’ve never sounded more relaxed, more relieved to be relaxed – and the soft edges, the familiar refrains, the gentle tones, they’re all windows to that light in you. ‘Still Waking Up’ is beautiful – not just because of your angelic Roy Orbison impression or the choirs that shimmer like rays of the morning sun through blinds, but also because of your humility, your reference to the feminine.
(Oh, hey, kudos for disavowing patriarchy. Yeah, I noticed – the re-branding of your self with your mother’s maiden name, your all-female band, the instrumentals that decentralise you from your own album. You’re trying harder than most, and I adore you for that.)
I’m also glad that, by the second half of the album, you veered outside that comfort zone. Christ, Tim – you still floor me every time on the title track, every god damn time you cry out loud like Scott fucking Walker, and rip into that guitar with yr bow as if you were cleaving yr own guts out. Christ. And then you follow that with the skeletal blues of ‘Found My Limit’, where you croon like Nina Simone, with all the pregnant pauses and slight sighs that suggest an agony far deeper than words alone can convey. Christ.
What gets me, though, are your lyrics. They leave me starved. Something eats at you, Tim, and I still don’t know what that is. ‘Found My Limit’ is fine, mind – if you’d hung any more words on that one, it’d sink. But everything in ‘What’d You Release?’ irritates me – it’s a pretty piano ballad, but what is the point of that extended metaphor with the street lamp and the dandelions? I want to like ‘You Felt Comfort’ – I mean, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea changed my life too – but if I think too hard about Jeff Mangum, then you appear too plain, too vague to fill his shoes (although I’m always charmed by the part where you portray someone’s heart as a study with books on the floor – now THAT’S a great extended metaphor). Maybe I judge you too harshly, since I’ve spun your spoken word album with AJ Cornell over and over, and I know you’ve penned more imaginative stuff than this.
Look, this isn’t easy for me, either. If this review were an actual letter, I would’ve crumpled five copies by now. But when I first heard ‘Tall Glass of Water’, you nearly lost me. I came around, of course – if we ever meet, let’s talk about love versus desire line – yet I couldn’t shake the fear that you were moving backwards from Ought, away from saving other souls, toward indulging your own. I mean, I get it – you seek comfort
in your record collection, and you needed the respite – but this kind of record can only happen once.
Nevertheless. I am happy for you. And, even though I’ll grade you lower than either of us would like, and even though I’ll shelve Saturday Night for a while now that I’ve exhausted its river-deep depths, know that I do still love you. No number can diminish your light, a beacon of compassion in a fog of indolence and hate.
So. Another note to the pile, after all. Happy Valentine’s Day, you horribly adorable poet, you.
Your Not-So-Secret Admirer