The trickiest part of reviewing music is deciding how much of yourself you want to put into a given piece. It does no one any good to write from a cold, objective point of view, because music is not a cold, objective medium; emotional responses are part of the equation for any good listener, and if you try and take that out of a review you end up with something that reads like a toaster manual. But there’s a small part of me that shrinks from the light, a part of me that hesitates whenever I try to say something personal. It doesn’t always stop me, but it does make me pause for a moment and wonder how much of me people care to see.
Part of it comes from writerly concerns; there’s a fine line between a personal music review and a long-winded story that happens to have a certain song playing in the background. Part of it comes from a fear of embarrassment; there’s precious little that’s easier to make fun of than an over-earnest music review (“I have never seen a shooting star before”, etc.) But a lot of it comes back to the mortifying ordeal of being known. If I become vulnerable, I tell myself, I will be hurt. People will roll their eyes at my maudlin display. I will be weighed on the balances and found wanting.
And so I arrive at “Land of No Junction”, a dusky, beguiling ballad by the Irish singer-songwriter Aoife Nessa Frances. I could talk about its patient slow burn, starting with just a jangly guitar and Frances’ welcoming beacon of a voice before building to a string-swirling slow dance of a climax. I could talk about the quiet yearning of its chorus, and how “breathless” and “restless” hit in entirely different ways. I could talk about how Frances is another bright young talent fusing dreamy ambient pop with AM gold, like Weyes Blood and Angel Olsen. I could even talk about how the song title came from a train station in Wales called Llandudno Junction, which is, all things considered, delightful.
Instead, if you’ll forgive the mushiness, I’d like to talk about the way “Land of No Junction” feels. On the one hand, there is a terrible loneliness to its sound; Frances’ voice is thick with wistful sorrow, and the minor-key guitar that accompanies her sounds like it’s the only guitar in the entire world. But there’s something warm and comforting about it, too; Frances’
voice, and the drifting melody she sings, is so generous and kind that you could mistake it for a lullaby. Indeed, she sings of sleep as she asks her lover to let her have a sweet break from reality: “leave me with this dream/and wake me after dark”.
I mentioned the idea of vulnerability earlier, because I think that’s why this song resonates with me so much. No matter how sweet it sounds, “Land of No Junction” can’t hide the broken heart at its center; it aches like someone who’s opened up and been punished for it. But it knows that in order to love, and in order to be loved, there is no avoiding vulnerability. It knows that things can go terribly wrong when you reveal too much of yourself, but it chooses to do so anyway. It’s something I ought to learn from, in writing and in my personal life, and it’s why this may be my favorite song of the year so far.
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