A lot of people don’t like love songs. Some people find them too sappy, others prefer the emotional turbulence of breakup songs. Some artists churn out love song after love song, while others avoid them like the plague (too soon?). Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s discography up to this point has given us little indication that she finds comfort in the thought of romance, her critically adored debut album At Weddings a collection of musings over loss of faith, broken promises, and unending torment. But in the latest drop from her upcoming EP Projections, she comes as close as she ever has to delivering a happy love song.
Working under the moniker Tomberlin, the Louisville native and now LA-based musician is fascinated by the invisible ties that bind people together and the fog that keeps them apart. The end result of this wondering can be both haunting and soothing—Tomberlin takes careful advantage of this duality in “Hours.”
“Did I run into your arms / A flower or fire?” she asks over a lilting acoustic guitar. “Was it crushing your hear too / Or just desire?” Though it’s easy to call this a ‘love song’, it’s really more of a monologue, an inner soliloquy of a person torn between the prospect of new romance and personal insecurities. “Well I’ll never make you stay if you can’t / It’s only been a little while / But I’m doing it again / Holding onto hours.” Maybe it’s easier to count the time than to muster the courage to tell that person how you feel.
The melody starts out clear and serene, but as the song unfolds and the emotional grip intensifies, a curtain of distortion layers Tomberlin’s ethereal vocals. “It’s all sacrifice and violence / The history of love,” she remarks, a line that seems bleak but is tempered by deep and sincere reflection. “But remember when we stayed up? And took turn playing songs? / My favorite game.” She doesn’t wallow in nihilistic contemplations: “And I never felt ashamed in your embrace / Holding on for hours.”
To end the song, Tomberlin flips the scope from herself to the object of her attention. “You’re always talking shit and / I’m always giving it.” There’s a sense of wry coyness in her delivery, an enduring feature of her artistry. So too is her ability to deliver a biting last line: “Did you wonder when we’d kiss? I think you did / Held me for hours.”
“Hours” is an exploration of Tomberlin’s restless mind, a mix of stomach butterflies, anxious thoughts, and blissful hope. It’s a song reminiscent of another notable release in the past few months, “Rabbit Hole” by Claire France, with both artists interested in divulging the two-sided nature of falling in love. Here, Tomberlin manages to sound both confident and hesitant, crystal clear and slightly distorted. Her EP Projections drops October 16th, and I already know I’ll be there to hear more.