Belonging is an essential human need. Community, relationships, confirmation of dignity—all of these are what defines our humanity. There’s a reason why famed psychologist Abraham Maslow designated belonging as a prerequisite for establishing esteem and self-actualization. On his hierarchy of needs, feeling socially and emotionally validated is of the utmost importance, third only to meeting basic safety and physiological requirements.
Without a sense of belonging, we take on this air of abstractness—non-concrete without the validation inherent in human connection. It is on this un-moored sensation that singer/songwriter Kate Elpo muses with her first single, “Be-Longing.”
As the track’s clever title suggests, not only does Elpo hope to satisfy this need by reconnecting with a significant other with whom she used to feel at one with, but she is indefinitely suspended in this act of yearning. Longing is an all-encompassing state of being for Elpo; a way of life.
honey, it’s been so long
since i’ve known
how to belong
we’re like a ship with no shore
we’re two clouds with no shape or form
Yet her seemingly fruitless desperation for inclusion and connection is only exacerbated as she clings to artifacts of a time when she felt validated through human ties.
was this just a dream
a ghost caressing me
i still wear your shirt when i sleep
what is this goddamn longing, longing for if we’re out of reach, out of touch?
But even with these remnants of a long-gone sense of connection, the degree to which she sinks into this abstract plane continues to escalate. This old shirt creates a false sense of comfort and belonging, meaning that as Elpo navigates her social world, feeling more and more alone, her frustration appears to only grow stronger. Did she ever really belong? Elpo seemingly doesn’t even know where to begin reconnecting, and that, combined with her desperation to do so is utterly heartbreaking.
These multifaceted feelings of desire and perpetual yearning are both supplemented and supported by an equally moving, instrumental folk backing.
An acoustic-guitar led sound dominates this track, which alongside plucked, double bass notes creates a beautifully melancholic monotony that’s the perfect distant partner to Elpo’s emotive vocals.
Upon first listening to Elpo’s voice, I immediately thought of the sense of longing inherent in the vocals of Alexandra Savior’s “Soft Currents.” Like Savior, Elpo’s voice has an undeniable ethereal quality to it—her supple, rounded notes and soft vibrato only further drenching listeners in the lonesomeness that “Be-Longing” harps on.
Elpo’s feelings of detachment are further materialized as a distant male voice joins her in harmony throughout the track as if the partner with whom she longs to reconnect with is on the fringes of her world—a figurative missed train of sorts, a symbol of anticipation for a lost opportunity. And with distorted guitar slides that are reminiscent of the nostalgia-inducing notes in America’s “Sister Golden Hair,” we leave “Be-Longing” feeling a similar incessant desire to find comfort in our ties with others.
This track is part of a decade-long songwriting endeavor that will eventually culminate in Elpo’s first EP, Sweethurt.
As indicative by both the dichotomous name of this upcoming EP and the juxtaposition of both heartwrenching and stunningly beautiful qualities presented in this track, Elpo isn’t afraid to infuse her works with the rare phenomenon that is raw, brutal honesty.
Yet as she contends with her own feelings of isolation throughout the song, Elpo brings listeners into her inner circle. On her website, Elpo wrote: “I started recording my songs during the pandemic lockdown in hopes that they could help others the same way they help me. I hope they do.”
After listening to this heartfelt debut, I can confidently say that these hopes aren’t falling on deaf ears. The degree to which Elpo uses songwriting as a therapeutic repose from life and a re-centering tool is clear when listening to this track, and it feels almost sacred to have a front-row seat at Elpo’s self-actualization journey. So, after repeatedly listening to this stunning debut, I too feel a sense of longing—that is, a longing to listen to more from Kate Elpo. For as she sings, “I can’t wait to hear your voice.”