When the glaciers of the ice age retreated about ten thousand years ago, birches were one of the first trees to recolonize the shifting landscape. It’s appropriate, then, that birches represent new beginnings in Celtic mythology – and that they represent the first letter of the Ogham, the Celtic alphabet. Spindly, paper-white, and resilient even in freezing weather, these trees are recognizable by markings on their surface that look like eyes. Walking in a forest of birches will give you the distinct feeling of being watched. It’s no coincidence that Maja Lena’s new single, an ethereal track about new beginnings, is titled after this tree.
Paper white bark, paper white bark/I’m stretched out on the road, stretched out on the road
Maja Lena is the solo project of Marianne Parrish, an artist who is previously known for her work with the alt-folk band Wind Chimes. Parrish has long been known for her emotive, otherworldly style. We see this brought to the forefront in “Birch”: the three minute track is immersive, haunting, and deliciously dark even as it handles a hopeful topic. The song opens with airy windchimes. It gives the feeling of standing on the porch, looking into the woods. Then crisp guitar weaves against the chimes, creating an overlapping effect that the vocals cut through, steadying the soundscape and drawing us into the lyrical story.
A draw in the dark, you draw me so stark/I’m stretched out on the road, stretched out on the road
This song sounds like a dark forest. Like lanterns bobbing in the dark. Like autumn wind, whistling against cabin walls. There’s something deeply ghostly about the sonic experience, a haunting effect that’s built by the rich, shifting harmonies. These harmonies also work to subvert the traditional folksy framing of the song; the layered, whimsical styling infuses the track with an addictive modernity.
Can I reach you this time? Can I reach you this time?
At its center, this seems to be a song about movement – about new beginnings, alternate timelines, second chances. One of the central refrains, “Can I reach you this time?” both calls back to an old mistake and invokes the hope for a different future. This lyric is heavy with both hope and fear, which works nicely as a summary of the song more holistically. The description of the birch trees’ “paper white bark” alludes to the opportunity of a blank page. The lyrics about branches blowing in the wind likely represent the freedom of starting anew. And, as mentioned before, birch trees themselves have a mythology rich in the concept of new beginnings, of shifting into a new season.
Paper white bark, paper white bark/ I’m stretched out on the road
Maja Lena’s song “Birch” is a bewitching song with alluring harmonies, masterful production, and clever storytelling. It feels like an incantation, a summoning of the past while keeping your eyes set on the future.