I talk a lot about music that sounds colorful, music that uses a lot of instrumentation and textures to create a big, brilliant burst of joy and beauty. But there’s something to be said for music that strips it all back, as well. Some songwriters favor sounds that are stark, minimalist, and haunting, using little more than a piano or a guitar to leave a lasting, tingling impression. It takes a great deal of skill to keep diminishing returns from settling in, but songwriters like Agnes Obel and Marissa Nadler manage to keep things varied. Sometimes, a song doesn’t need the entire rainbow; sometimes, all it needs are shades of grey.
Liebeskid, the singer-songwriter behind “In Your Eyes I Look Bigger”, was originally from Russia, but is currently based in Germany. Both countries are stereotypically viewed as somber, greyscale places, and I don’t mean to perpetuate misleading images of two large countries with rich, multifaceted cultures. All the same, there’s something in Liebeskid’s music that evokes those popular images of concrete buildings and wintry, overcast skies. It reminds me of Luca Guadagnino’s recent remake of Suspiria, set in Cold War-era Berlin and soundtracked by sparse, eerie piano music not far removed from this song.
“In Your Eyes I Look Bigger” consists of Liebeskid’s voice, her piano, the understated lowing of a cello, and something else (synth? Guitar? Both?) that moans plaintively towards the end of the song. The piano settles into a steady pulse, the left and right hands each ruminating over the same notes and rhythms in a way that adds tension and momentum to the music. In the song’s outro, Liebeskid switches it up, leaving plenty of empty space between the chords. It doesn’t feel like a traditional climax, but the listener leaves the song feeling intrigued and, oddly, satisfied.
Liebeskid’s voice is similarly evocative, staying in its lower register and adding weight to every word. Her accented delivery, reminiscent of a contralto Karin Dreijer, makes each line feel fraught with meaning, dipping lower for the verses and rising slightly for the wistful sigh of the title line: “but in your eyes, I look bigger”. It’s a strange sentiment, but it gets its point across: other people see you as different, or perhaps better, than you know you are. It’s not a song that comes out and says what it means, but its meaning comes across through its chilly atmosphere.
“There is no sign of the storm,” Liebeskid sings at the beginning of the song, and it’s rich with irony. The storm saturates every second of this song, even if the sky’s still overcast. You can see cloud after dense, dark cloud gathering above you, the afternoon gradually turning to night. Liebeskid is considerate enough to provide this musical warning, offering some shelter from the coming downpour.
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