Some chord progressions are full stories. They start at home, leave, grow, and return having learned something new. Marabai Ceiba’s new song “She” has such a progression. It begins with a pensive descent down the frets of a guitar, but at the end of every line there is an unexpected step upward – a remarkably hopeful note that reveals the way back to the first chord. The feeling of any single chord depends on its context, so when we return home for the start of the next bar, home feels different now because of what came before.
This is a beautiful way to communicate the story of “She.” It is the story of a mother who, through aloneness in nature, opens the door to the deepest parts of herself, and discovers herself anew. It is the same story as the chord progression – descent, discovery, and re-emergence having changed. I realize this might sound a bit woo-woo or over dramatic, but in the context of “She,” a deeply compassionate and musically intricate song, it doesn’t feel like either.
The song’s composition is wonderfully dense. It begins with a lone guitar, but blossoms, patiently, into a moving, complicated instrumental whole. There’s some Phillip Glass-ish, minimalism in its layered, evolving arpeggios, some Carrie and Lowell era Sufjan in the sweet twinkling of its strings, some psychedelic folk and pop in its spacious drama, like a track off Mid Air Thief’s Crumbling. The recording and mixing of the song is immaculate as well. Each instrument rings clear and full, interacting with, but distinct from the rest. And while the production is beautifully sweet, it is not so dolled up that the instruments no longer sound organic. You hear fingers on strings, breath in the vocal, the wood creak of a guitar. There is a lovely vintage warmth in the low strings, like the leathery rough of an old man’s hands. A solid, crisp sound of keys in the piano. An amazing flutter in the charango that sounds like leaves in a breeze, or water running over stone. The whole thing sounds like standing in a forest and marveling at the intricate beauty around you. I remember when I first got glasses, several years later than I should have, being delighted that you could see individual leaves in trees. “She” touches on that same sense of wonder.
I’m also impressed by how groovy the song is, considering its lack of percussion. For me, dramatic, spacy compositions like this can get a bit over the top sometimes if they’re all head and no gut. I think the groove of this song, carried in large part by a really interesting syncopation in the guitar, does a lot to offset this. It’s hard to resist the movement of it.