It’s been one year since the COVID lockdowns began. I’d do another long intro about the effects of the pandemic–the loneliness, the frustration, the boredom–or maybe I’d trace it from the early days of Tiger King and Animal Crossing to the present. But let’s not kid ourselves: do you really want to hear about all that shit again? Do you want to read another piece of self-conscious Didion worship about The Way Things Are Nowadays? Do you want me to write another ponderous thinkpiece about The Current Moment? If I’m this tired of writing about it, I can only imagine what it’s like for you guys.
The truth is that I’m sick of it. I’m sick of Zoom calls with dim lighting and tin can microphones, I’m sick of sober conversations about the next store that’s going to close forever. I’m sick of flinching every time I see someone whose face mask slips slightly down their nose. And most of all, I’m sick of feeling so stuck: the same bedroom, the same house, the same frozen foods for lunch, the same TV shows Mom watches, the same doldrums day in and day out. Even when I have work or writing to do, the year has felt like one long, listless Saturday afternoon.
What I like best about “Hold Your Course,” a new song by the British singer-songwriter S J Williams, is the sense of forward momentum it creates. Williams, a classically-trained flautist with a keen ear for sonic textures, wrote “Hold Your Course” at the beginning of lockdown, and the lyrics aim to soothe our anxious minds. “Hold your course,” he sings, in a choir boy’s tenor. “Steady now.” There have been many songs written during lockdown that try to comfort us, but it takes a special perspective to keep it fresh, to keep it from being a well-meaning there-there that goes in one ear and out the other.
Thankfully, Williams has that perspective, and this is where that sense of forward momentum comes in. Some classically-trained singer-songwriters just end up making pop songs with slightly more ambitious string arrangements, but Williams specifically evokes the minimalists here: that hardy triumvirate of Glass, Reich and Riley. Repetition is the name of the game, and while “Hold Your Course” is much less intense than, say, Einstein on the Beach, it may be an acquired taste for some. But there’s no denying how well all of the elements work together, from the synth at the start of the song that bleats like a car alarm to the blissful flurry of woodwinds that drive us towards the end. Even when “Hold Your Course” slows down for Williams to sing, it always feels like it’s going somewhere.
That, more than anything, is the real balm. “Hold Your Course” doesn’t just tell us it’s going to be alright, it uses its music to back it up. Things are always moving forward, it suggests, even when it seems like the entire world has stood still. Time still goes on, progress still gets made, and life, no matter how radically it’s been altered, is still worth living.