“Downtime” by Significant Other is a song that tells a story in a subtle manner, disguised by strange phrasing and tonality. If you remove the lyrics and listen simply to the music, it serves as a sort of soundscape. The guitar is strangely pitched and almost watery, and the piano that subsists beneath it is soft and consistent, which paints a steady sort of sidewalk upon which the music moves.
There is just enough of a trace of synth that it adds an extra, almost supernatural element to the music – something that is relatively far removed from the bulk of Significant Other’s work, which is largely simplistic and acoustic.
Significant Other’s voice adds to this story he is painting. His voice is somewhat nasally, always soft, and relatively high-pitched, something that works well with the subtle sprinkle of electronics that adds to this ethereal scenery.
Specifically, on this track, his voice is sharply recalcitrant of A Great Big World, in the detached, purposefully flat, and nasally tonality that he employs, which is relatively unique to this song; much of his other work is more so intentionally on-key, and sung at a slightly deeper pitch.
Beyond the subtleties of the music and the pure sound of the vocals, the lyrics tell a story that is not, at first, visible.
“You’re a lion standing tall
So debonair, white wherewithal”
This line, which marks the beginning of the song, might have endless interpretations. It is left intentionally open-ended and vague. The important part of this is his initial recognition of someone else that has pride and blatant courage, which sets the song up for self-reflection and comparison.
“Tell me once I’ll tell you twice
It pays to put your thoughts on ice
Strangled by the bleeding sun
You feel it when the day is done”
Here, the lines sound, at first, like rhymes for the sake of rhyming. But, if you look through that lens of a comparison to courage, meaning suddenly becomes far more clear. He is someone who is unable to or unafraid of speaking his mind, and this inability to tell people what he’s thinking strangles him every night – he wishes he could speak his truths, and he hates that he is incapable of this.
“Baby Darling don’t you cry
We’ve all got something in our eyes
Finding time to let it out
We’re shedding skin and casting doubt”
Here, he is admitting to the fact that, though he can’t express it, he, like all men, is an emotional being. At the same time, he is also expressing how difficult and painful it is to release thoughtful emotion, in that it is similar to shedding skin.
But it is in the chorus that something of a twist occurs within this ‘story’ that he is telling.
“When you whisper
Life don’t come easy to me
Just remember well, alabaster
We will pick up all that we’re made of
Light shines through the plaster”
The chorus tells how the ‘lion’ is not as brave or confident as he seems; he is coming to the speaker for help, something that drives home the age-old lesson that things are not always as they seem.
This lends the speaker to actually give advice to the Lion, telling him essentially that the darkness is never complete, and that together, they both will get through the harder parts of life, a concept that is rarely explored so effectively or so quietly. This is an anthem for those with insecurities and fears, a message that whatever we may look like, we are all susceptible to feeling like we’re not enough.
“Downtime” is a unique song that matches quite well with the themes that it purports; it is not at all what it seems. It is delivered in a way that is almost chilling, and the message lies hidden between the music and the beneath the lyrics.
For more Significant Other, visit auteurresearch.com/artists/significant-other/