I love ballet.

So, so much. So much, that after I had to stop for awhile, I couldn’t bear to look at a single dance because it made me miss it too much. My bloodied (yes, ballet is brutal) pointe shoes in the farthest corner of the attic, my youtube folder of videos deleted, and even the barest mention of it sending me into a state of upset.

I can happily say I’m over that now, and can enjoy it again, and even crack out my ballet flats and do a barre routine sometimes. But something it taught me was how some emotional centers in our lives become so deeply sensitive that they can’t bear touching, that there is a sort of emptiness that settles into the bones that just can’t quite take all the fullness of the feeling.

For a time, ballet was too much to bear to think about. And the silliest reminder—those little, cute tutus in the kid’s section at Walmart—could make me wanna tear up.

Jake Minch‘s “strip mall” is, to me, its own kind of barely speakable yearning. It has that marked evenness, almost like if he were to sing something too strongly the whole structure might collapse; it’s sensitive, fixed to the reminders that are still lingering around of a person not-quite-there; and it seems, for all the pain, still hoping—perhaps delusionally—to go back.

See, in ballet, there’s this thing called a pas de deux. Everything is French, but it just means “steps of two” or, it’s a dance for two people. They’re kinda like the main piece of a full ballet, and are usually romantic and soaring and involve a lot of the male performer lifting and spinning this lithe, writhing lover. It’s dramatic, it’s complex, and it establishes a lot of the through-lines of what makes the central love of a story noticeable through dance.

In your bedroom,
on the floor next to your bed,
probably under but over the carpet,
there’s a T-shirt that I want back

I know you still have it
In December, I saw you were in it
at a strip mall when I came to visit
You were shoppin’ two days before Christmas
and I’m drawin’ a blank after that

With Minch’s song, “strip mall,” a song about someone seeing an ex-lover at a local mall, still wearing their old shirt, it feels a bit like the pas de deux is playing on without the partner to lift or be lifted. There’s a hollowness, but a routine nonetheless, as if waiting for them to come join the dance. Reminiscent of Joy Again’s “Necromancer,” Alex Turner’s work on Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine” OST, or at times even a twangy M. Ward, Minch sits deftly between indie sadboy and folky wry that feels at its heart, emotional and frank.

And over and over and over
I pray that I see you again
No other way I can turn it:
You were the best thing that I’ve ever had

And over and over and over
I think that the world’s gonna end
So I blame the wind and my dealer
When I’m askin’ about how you’ve been

Whether Minch intended or not, I also think he was leaning into this sounding like a dance—though he couldn’t confirm or deny, having shared that he doesn’t remember writing the song—but the 1, 2, 3 waltz rhythm begs comparison. “And over and over and over,” he sings weak but sincere, as ambient noise rises in the right ear, “I pray that I see you again.” On the next refrain, it rises in the left, emotion rising like the wind he blames.

I miss the summer
I hate that I’m old in a dorm now
I hate that you’re old in our hometown

Ignoring that “old in a dorm” is oxymoronic (Minch is the ripe old age of 20), he honestly encapsulates how it feels to “come of age” after high school and be forced to let go of hazy, summery youthful feelings. In what is absurdly heartbreaking, he delivers the honest, indelicate lines:

I hate that I hate what you do
I loved bein’ younger with you

While ballet is always associated with excessive rigidity, drama—even at times of being dull—my favorite parts of it are what Minch does in this song. He is playing the pas de deux differently now, he is waltzing alone, and because of the tiredness he comes at the song with, the moments of animation and sudden emotion shine more strongly as the remnants of that love living on.

Like Saint-Saëns “Dying Swan,” where we see the inherent, natural grace of the swan’s movements because it is capable of so much beauty at the brink of collapse; like Nikiya’s Variation, where her final rise to her feet is all the more beautiful in its imperfection because it is her last offering to a lover; Manon’s finale, where their earlier pas de deux becomes corrupted by Manon’s inability to hold herself upright this time, the choreography twisted as she dies in Des Grieux’s arms; or in Gisele’s heartwrenching end where she dances the pas de deux fully alone now, in a state of madness, believing her absent lover is still dancing his parts beside her.

The chorus repeats.

Minch continues the lonesome dance. “And over and over and over, I pray that I see you again…” Brassy flurries join in, instrumentation bubbles over, and Minch dares to harmonize with himself, allowing a little of the emotion to rise and release. 

The added dynamics feel, just enough, like the lover’s memory waltzing along. 

You were the best thing that I ever had

“strip mall” is a song with simplicity, but it embodies a much more complex, offstage love with such sincerity it’s almost close enough to touch. A waltz of nostalgia and yearning, it’s a delight to listen to and a strong testament to the budding talent that is Jake Minch. I encourage you to be a part of the first to recognize this young, fresh talent and stream “strip mall” over… and over, again.

(feature photo courtesy of Jake Minch’s instagram)