So, I’m pretty much known to my friends as the emotional one. We all have at least one of these friends – the one who kinda just cries over everything. Happy, sad, shocking, horrifying – it all makes them a little weepy. It’s not so much that I enjoy being sad, or that I’m for some reason obsessed with ignoring silver linings and looking right at the depressing side of every occasion. It’s not always so easy to shake this kind of association, though.
The first time I heard “Montana” by the Chicago-based band Slow Pulp, my immediate thought was: so who’s the emotional one out of them? And as soon as you listen to this track, you’ll understand exactly why I’m asking. It’s a song about aching sadness, throbbing loneliness, and biting self-deprecation, with brutal lines like, “I’m a loner with no plans,” and, “I’m a loser with no chance.” Need I say more?
Okay, as cathartic as it may be for some people to just hear this song as another thing to cry to, that’s really not the way Slow Pulp meant it to be. “This song is about moving beyond defining myself in terms of my mental health,” lead vocalist Emily Massey describes, going on to detail the truly rough patch of luck her past months have been: Lyme disease, chronic Mono, her parents getting involved in a serious car crash, and of course the onset of a global pandemic. For someone like me especially, it’s easy to get lost in the sadness of it all, but the true aim of the song is to let go of all of it, to breathe, to clear your head.
“Montana” overlays a sort of campy acoustic accompaniment, but one that never becomes melodramatic or cliché. “I don’t wanna be a backwards man / Come on get out of my head,” Massey sings, with the kind of simultaneously fiery wit and icy emptiness characteristic of artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy. That isn’t to say that Slow Pulp doesn’t craft a unique sound, however. “Montana” is ripe with delightfully creative musical choices. Enter, harmonica. Picture this: a cowboy sitting alone by a quiet campfire, playing a rusty harmonica and singing about lonesome blues. What at first seems theatrical quickly becomes piercingly effective and refreshingly unique.
For a group that’s been playing together since elementary school, it’s clear that Slow Pulp has an exceedingly natural chemistry, both musically and creatively. “Montana” is a great demonstration of taking a popular subject and making it sound totally novel. If this isn’t proof that you can get through the tough times, I don’t know what is.