“In My Dreams A Perfect Chair” is the new single from Brooklyn-based chamber folk duo Gawain and the Green Knight. It tells the unlikely and remarkably compelling story of a woodworking apprentice, so terrified of failure that she wants, on some base, fight-or-flight level, to quit – “Somebody tell me I’m not good at this so I can just go home, please/ Thank you very much, please.” It’s a brutally honest portrayal of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. “It hurts my feelings to be told I’m doing well,” she sings, “I’ve got no masterwork, no masterwork hidden in these hands/Calloused as I am.” Yet she loves her work – “In my dreams I am a chair,” “Purposeful and strong/Something to be proud of/Something to depend upon.”
The song’s arrangement is really lovely. It begins in cool morning dew – sweet folksy guitars, and soft reeds – but as bass and percussion enter, it warms up into green spring grasses under bare feet. The groove of the song takes its time, emerging patiently and playfully, full of sweet, open-armed self-assurance. It sounds to me like white shores, a green country, and a swift sunrise – my (totally movie-trained) image of Ireland, or my nostalgia for the Oregon coast. The reeds fly in a really nice rise and fall above the guitar chords – gulls riding a breeze in from sea – and the guitars dance across the stereo like a track off Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois.
The song’s mix is really sweet as well – warm room verbs and solid high end in the plucks – a friendly, countryside sound. It’s a deceptively dense track, but the mix leaves room for the instruments to ring out sweet and full, and the ear-worm vocals to shine center stage. Vocal harmonies sometimes rub up against each other and resonate with a kind of counter-force, but here they’re somehow more friendly with each other – more supportive, more clearly occupying the same space.
The lead vocal is clear and personable. There’s no need for tons of reverb, or hissy glittering high end. It’s just strong, and straight forward, and self assured, like Laura Marling’s latest album. Also, and I say this lovingly, there is a non-zero amount of musical theatre in how clean and present the vocal sits. It really helps lead singer Alexia Antoniou carry the emotional arc of the song – her voice is a sail sliding over and through the waves of the instrumentation.
The chorus of the song switches to this solid, full-bodied half-time groove, which sounds much more deliberate than the double-timed verse. For me this rhythm brings to mind the kind of repetitive, deliberate motions of working with your hands. I typically think of working in a woodshop as having a kind of dusty cassette, musty grandma-home warmth, but here, it feels more clean – curving, woodgrains and crisp sun pouring in through the windows. The scene is rendered, both musically and vocally, in such vivid, meaningful, real-life colors, that the listener is brought at once into the “Cedar, birch, and maple” of the song, and into their own, sharp self-doubts.