There’s something to be said for a good falsetto. In the wrong hands, it can be a weak, mewling stab at tenderness and intimacy, a crutch used by reedy-voiced R&B hacks and guitar-toting soft-bros. But when it’s done right, it’s a useful, versatile tool in any singer’s arsenal; depending on the needs of the song, a falsetto can be used to convey vulnerability, exuberance, or sheer beauty.
The key is in the tone. Singers like Thom Yorke and Justin Vernon know that simply going high and soft isn’t enough for a good falsetto. The voice needs to be rich, vibrant, and full-bodied, as though you’re singing from your chest. That way, it can be as delicate and sweet as you’d like while still leaving an impact on the listener; instead of floating in and out of the ears, it’s a sound that can pierce you, vibrate inside of you.
Oliver Say, the British singer behind the ravishing “Am I Always So Wrong?”, has one of the loveliest falsettos I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. His voice has a full, silvery tone to it, the kind that rings and sings through the air like a church bell. It’s a soulful and meaningful sound, coming from the heart rather than the head. Best of all, it doesn’t sound forced or affected in the slightest; it sounds natural and pure, the kind of organic beauty that feels like it just appears without warning, the kind of beauty that just happens.
“Am I Always So Wrong?” is a bit cryptic. While there are lyrics that concern themselves with a relationship, it’s not exactly a straightforward love song. The focus is less on what Oliver Say says (ha! See what I did there?) and more on how he says it. In this case, he says it with a dreamy, swaying guitar, wordless harmonies, and his own gorgeous voice. That’s an approach we could use more of; while this is a songwriting blog, songwriting takes many forms, and lyrics need not be the crux of it all.
The song doesn’t build to your standard climax, either; there’s no moment where everything swells together into a moment of cathartic uplift. And yet, in the ebb and flow of harmonies and soulful noise, it feels utterly satisfying in its own right. It’s an understated ending for an understated song. There’s no other way for a song this sweet and ethereal and gentle to resolve itself.