ALBUM: Let a Lover Drown You
ARTIST: Penny and Sparrow
Album release date: March 11, 2016
A Vertigo-Inducing Reveal
It was a date to remember. My husband-to-be brought his fancy sound system over to my place and I made – and burned – pierogies. We ate Snack Packs for dessert (since both of us are trying to heal from a deficit of said SnackPacks in childhood: they were hard to come by, and when they did, they were usually kept in the pantry, and thus, room-temperature), and then sat down to listen to the entirety of Penny and Sparrow’s latest album, Let a Lover Drown You.
I’d resolved to suspend any opinion until I’d had a chance to listen to it a number of times: after the first listen through, though, neither of us could help but feel a tad baffled. It certainly felt like a collection of songs, each distinct and beautiful in itself; but the overall direction of the album was evasive. I came to find out, over the next few days of listening to the album again and again, that my initial reaction had been one of not being able to see the trees for the forest, if you’ll allow for that: I’d been approaching the album like one might approach an SAT essay. Scan it, formulaically find the main points, and do everything you can to de-mystify yourself (and whoever is grading you) as convincingly as possible. But in becoming more familiar with each song, I began to recognize the unquantifiable nature of vulnerability: the unveiling and reverencing of the angles of the body one-by-one, each given its due weight yet ultimately being subordinate to the vertigo-inducing beauty of the whole.
“Damn Near Honorable”
Some songs on the album – in particular, Makeshift – fall surprisingly into what feels like a pop-operatic style, while yet remaining stark and roomy. Baxter’s delivery becomes conversational and dramatized, his voice becoming more staccato than legato, while a bright xylophone (…or something: ask John Paul White, who produced the album) is played tensely beneath. One can almost see the stage set, with him walking deliberately across it, arms emphasizing each phrase and face turned out earnestly to the audience. Until Tomorrow feels like a tip of the hat to Schönberg and Boublil, in both its affectivity and its tone; all the while retelling the story of humanity’s inveterate infidelity and God’s patient, continual pursual of his promiscuous bride.
This approach will come as no surprise to veteran listeners of the duo: Andy is fascinated by the story of Les Mis, and probably knows enough about the cast, production, and lyrics of the 10th Anniversary run of the play to theoretically cream Ken Jennings in an episode of Jeopardy. “I eat the entire story with a spoon,” he recently said in an interview with Vice. “They’re so rich, the characters are, and I think [they show] a great cross-section of the human heart. I think we are, at different times, every one of those characters, from deplorable and mangy all the way up to damn near honorable and noble.”
The Revolution of Interior Re-Alignment
Overall, the album has a denser feel than their previous projects: but not in the sense that it is more excellent, or more wildly inventive than what they’ve done before. Rather, the lushness of these songs and their unusual, intimate arrangements simply express a deeper and more fully realized palette of creative thought, literary influence, and life experience. The bare-bones vulnerability speak to Andy’s and Kyle’s personal encounter with the freedom that comes from pruning away harmful loves in order to experience the slow-in-coming, revoluntionary bloom of commitment: that is, love that doesn’t go looking for an escape-hatch, love that demands all and embraces all, love that invigorates and makes whole. The kind of love that allows you to know that someone has seen you at your shittiest and still chooses to stay with you, be it in the trenches or on the dawn after the battle.
As a lover of Les Mis myself, I can’t help but sense the same telos pulsing in this album as that which vivifies Hugo’s famous story. As Enjolras cried, while rallying his men at the barricade: “Citizens, whatever happens to-day, through our defeat as well as through our victory, it is a revolution that we are about to create. As conflagrations light up a whole city, so revolutions illuminate the whole human race.”
The truth is symphonic, and so my brain now immediately jumps to the words of Kierkegaard: “Love is a revolution: the most profound of all.”
Check it out.
And ladies, if your guy gets a sudden urge to grow his hair out like Kyle’s, let him give it a shot. It may end up working out so well that all you can do is say, “Mercy.”