“When I think of you
I take a shovel to my chest
And dig as deep as I can get.”
Those lyrics come at the end of “Quiet Weather”, the devastating climax of Caitlin Pasko’s new album Greenhouse. I’ve listened to “Quiet Weather” every day for the past week preparing to write this review, and I told myself that I’d start writing once I stopped feeling the pang of raw emotion that hit whenever I got to those lyrics.
I don’t believe in strict objectivity when writing about music, because I don’t believe it’s possible to be completely objective about art, but no one wants to read my diary. Eventually, I told myself, the emotional resonance would wear off, and I could tackle “Quiet Weather” as just another song, albeit an exceptionally effective and well-written one.
But it never did wear off. Every time I listened to the song, I would come to the ending and I would feel that pang, that rock in my stomach, that heat welling up behind my eyes. I wouldn’t be able to approach “Quiet Weather” like any other song, but I knew I’d have to write about it anyway, if only so I could move on. It cut too deeply to ignore.
If you want a musical comparison, “Quiet Weather” reminds me most of Ruins, Grouper’s instant classic of subdued depression. Like the best songs on Ruins, Pasko uses little more than piano, some subtle synth coloring, and her fragile whisper of a voice to shatter your heart like a priceless vase. But while Grouper’s background as an ambient musician meant she was more concerned with textures than lyrics, you can actually make out what Pasko’s saying; consequently, you can hear just how poignant they are.
Reflection is the prevailing theme of “Quiet Weather”. In addition to the introspective tone, Pasko compares the person she’s addressing to a lake as “still as glass”, and later to a mirror. If this sounds a little new age, it’s because reflection is seen as inherently peaceful and meditative. But if you’re in as much emotional pain as Pasko clearly is, then reflection can feel more like an autopsy, an unsparing exploration of what went wrong and how badly you were hurt.
Which brings me back to the lyrics at the top of this review. I’ve never experienced heartbreak–I’ve never had a relationship to be heartbroken over in the first place–but I know exactly what Pasko means. There’s a fine line between self-reflection and self-flagellation, and I’ve spent countless hours picking at every emotional scab and opening every old wound. To hear that sado-masochistic relationship with the self expressed in such a stark, potent way–literally digging into yourself, as though your body is a grave to be exhumed and analyzed–it hurt, but it was gratifying. Caitlin Pasko’s songwriting bears the classic mark of great songwriting: it’s a deeply personal vision, but in that vision you can see yourself as clearly as your own reflection in the mirror.