When quarantine started, I resolved to learn something new. I didn’t know what, exactly, I wanted to learn about (fashion? Film history? Art? Drag? The possibilities were theoretically endless), but I figured that, if I wanted to fully throw myself into something new, this was as good an opportunity as I was going to get. I was unemployed when quarantine started, so it wasn’t as though I was too busy in the Before Times, but now I had to stay inside for the safety of myself and others, and any plans I had for the rest of the year had quickly evaporated. I had to do something to make it feel less like a colossal waste of time.
Of course, that was the wrong way of looking at things. I didn’t count on how psychologically taxing quarantine was going to be; although my family and I have been spared from the virus so far, such a colossal disruption of modern life was bound to affect us somehow. Even if my day-to-day activities haven’t changed much–my family still works, we still eat, we still watch television–there’s a certain queasiness in the air, a sense that something huge has come unmoored. In short, it’s not the best environment to learn how to master an omelet.
Nevertheless, some people have sharpened their skills in quarantine, and Jordan White is one of them. A Melbourne-based musician who records under the name Braille Face, White recently released a new song, “Softly Spoken”, with an animated music video he made himself. He taught himself how to animate during self-isolation, and he’s already proven himself adept: striking imagery abounds, with its blue-and-white color scheme and its Haring-esque figures melting into WWII-era graffiti.
If White was able to overcome the stress and alienation of quarantine to learn a new skill, it may be because he was already tuned into that sense of quiet dread. “Softly Spoken” is a very pretty song, with shoegaze guitars churning beneath dreamy melodies and ethereal harmonies, but the atmosphere is downcast and moody. It reminds me a little of Radiohead in the way it evokes grey skies and lonely bus stops. Crucially, also like Radiohead, White understands that a depressive atmosphere is a slog if there’s no sense of empathy.
White’s vocals are sensitive and refreshingly unaffected; they’re reminiscent of Thom Yorke and David Byrne, but he’s clearly not trying to sound like either of them. He just sounds like a quiet man with deep, complex emotions that he’s kept hidden for so long that he forgot how to express them. Coupled with the verse melody, he sells the wistfulness of lines like “you were so hard to follow”, as well as making lines like “hold the line and drain the swamp/’cause bureaucrats are hiding in your mother’s soup” evocative of creeping paranoia and not vaguely dystopian word salad.
“I’ve figured out what I need,” White sings in the chorus. He never tells us what it is he needs, and we’re left to draw our own conclusions. Is it a hopeful proclamation from a man with a new perspective on life? Or is it a deceptively peaceful promise from someone who has given up? Does the narrator need a vacation? A raise? Love? Peace? A drink? A needle? A noose? Whatever the case, after a song as resonant as this, you’re rooting for things to turn out alright–never a guarantee, but it’s the thought that counts.