Noele Flowers has time and time again proven her unique ability to write stirring and frustratingly relatable heartbreak songs, not about a lover but instead: friendship. And in her most recent trio of singles—”Spider’s Silk,” “Red Sweater,” and “Let You Down”—she walks us through a friendship of 10 years—how it slowly degrades, and is lost.
Something is so unfathomable about love you can’t keep.
There’s this, perhaps childish, viewpoint that love can conquer all, that if love is present, anything can be salvaged. But then all the simplest things seem capable of diminishing, decreasing, or simply destroying the love: missed calls, distance, misunderstandings, politics, even sometimes simply the punctuation of a single text.
I was discussing this with a friend recently, how our phones give us this illusion of the love still being present, when we decided it was really like carrying around this old relic in hopes we’d get to the next checkpoint—the coffee date, the movie night—where we’d be able to bring it to life again.
Flowers’ trio of songs chronicle the hardening love the narrator carries for a friend she’s progressively losing: from the point of establishing their friendship, missing them moving to a new city, and then looking back and wondering who let who down.
The first song, “Spider’s Silk,” which Flowers wrote 10 years ago, is almost eerie with forewarning for the web that would come to be created around this relationship, early with regret. But it also has hope, innocence, an oddball curiosity. The song starts with a spooky descending synth, samba’ing metronome clicks, and the sounds of revving engines. Flowers joins in like the haunted music box at the heart of an abandoned Merry-Go-Round:
Leave your bike in the back again
No one will take it, not in this town—not in these times
Please forget how to drive again
That was where it began, let’s go back—let’s just go back
…Oh, you must be my sister or something
‘Cause I know I won’t lose you
The song details a friendship in its teenage sincerity: needing to hitch a ride. Somewhere in the rides the narrator offers, they develop a closeness like sisters. But quickly it changes:
I spent half my time waiting on you
I write letters, but you don’t write back—never write back
The friend moves away, and leaves all her letters unanswered. Flowers adds some exciting dynamics to the line, “All the beautiful music is you,” invoking an angelic choir and undulating melodic lines.
Tied to me with rubber bands
Tied to me with spider’s silk
Tied to me with clasping hands
Tied to me
The bridge brings in drowned out echoes of the lines, like a ghost chanting behind the figure; there’s an element of possession that is foreboding but uncertain. Has the narrator tied the friend to her as a spider in a web, or is she—in some odd case of Stockholm syndrome—asking to be tied back up by the other friend’s prior need of her—a need for a ride, a friend who lived close by?
Five years later, Flowers would go on to write “Red Sweater,” a song much sweeter and more longing. She’s in New York, wearing her friend’s red sweater, wondering how she’s doing. The accompaniment is bright, full, fingerpicked, with a little strings:
It’s my seventh winter in New York
when I got here, I wore your red sweater
Now I wonder, are you doing better?
Better this year
One foot on the end of the world
One arm hooked through the wishes we started
Are we both on the coast, broken-hearted and alone?
There’s a reserved, melancholic yet sparkling adoration to this song, reminiscent of Adele’s “Daydreamer.” Flowers’ voice is on particular display as she flips up into high, airy lilts, and takes her time weaving the words:
I haven’t said anything I would listen to all year
Oh, and honey, I don’t know if I could speak—when you are not near
I need you to tell me, I’m up for this job
I need you to tell me, I’m home
It’s clear the singer longs for the friend from “Spider’s Silk,” hoping that somehow they might find a job nearby or come be home with her. Flowers hits an emotional core of her grief over their loss of innocence: “Oh, to know that I’m not seventeen/is a pain so much more than I bargained/Is the love that I have for you all I will ever earn?”
As the song reaches its end, Flowers sings high and beautifully in repetition, “I need you wherever I go!” with such delicate sincerity it conjures up the image of a young child reaching toward a parent’s arms, a simplistic and ingrained longing.
So of course the last song, “Let You Down,” must suddenly grow up—if only by time alone, having been written in the past year. All the songs in this trio are gorgeous, but “Let You Down” transcends gorgeous into something more profound. It should be practically prescriptive, a song that is better than the decadence or delight of a bop because it’s desperately soul healing. I think of all my favorite coldbusters: lemon, ginger, Throat Coat tea, honey. It packs a punch that is almost medicinal.
The song begins with the narrator thinking about the old friend lately, hearing news about them, and finding it hard to picture them, imagine them near, and to fathom that they’ll probably never be friends again.
The accompaniment strips down—light “oo”s and bird sounds weave in—and Flowers adds dynamics at just the right times, like in this beautiful descending harmony:
Should I be calling every night
trying to reach you, trying to keep you on the ground?
Or should I let you let me down?
I paused at this line and repeated it back to myself a few times, thinking of all the love I’ve wanted to suffer for, because it hurt to think of being happier without them, to admit the way they treated me was hurting me. “Or should I let you let me down?” is the kind of line that sinks its teeth in.
You were anchor too long—10 years, honey
Out and quiet in your room
All the adults seemed doomed
Were we just that naive to think we’d keep what everyone else was losing?
Flowers’ voice strains deliciously on the line “doomed,” breaking the precision of the musicality to allow for a peek behind the veil where the heart of the feeling is there, alive still, and real.
When you got cynical, I got angry
Is this really how it ends?
Is how we cope with global warming
gonna steal my oldest friend?
Does it really matter what’s right or what’s crazy
when you think about me now?
Tell me, did I let you down?
Did I let you down?
And a glimpse of the details come through: some kind of tiff about global warming. Oh, the tragedy. Two souls split up and hurting over a situation far, far beyond their means. It’s easy to miss the way the big things slowly, entropically tear us apart—things that mean everything and nothing. Flowers seems to let down her guard, offering her own sense of regret. “Tell me, did I let you down?”
I think this is Flowers’ best song to date, a stunningly honest song about the stupid, simple, relatable ways we lose the profoundest things. And how, in a way she doesn’t fully explore but implies in the inverse image the songs create, those silly things can show a fundamental issue perhaps we’ve been trying to ignore.
I’m extremely moved by Flowers’ triptych here: the spider’s web; the red sweater against the city skyline; and, I suppose, the bare-branched sunset, which is peaceful though grief-stricken. It’s a desperately important image because it reflects a part of the collective human heart all-too-often neglected, a piece of heartbreak that often calcifies inside of us, sometimes without our even noticing.
It is a deeply beautiful thing to bear even a little of that sorrow and transform it into something lighter, but Flowers does it with grace. Because though the relics of love we carry may harden in our hearts, we can look back and remember why we held on with joy, see the colors that once were as it washes out and releases into grace, forgiveness, and hope. Like Flowers’ music, there is beauty in that honest reflection, and it’s worth the listen simply to watch that journey from start to finish. So give yourself grace, and go listen—I’ve already got it on repeat.