I’ve been watching a lot of travel documentaries.
Something about the cozy-ness of staying home, sludged into my couch like a burrowing animal, watching some of the greatest landscapes pan out on the TV screen – it strikes a perfect balance of marvel and comfort.
The most recent one I watched was on Norway; they have these stellar roadway designs – loads of scenic stops, even artistically designed public restrooms. One place in particular stood out to me: this scenic stop, “viewpoint SNØHETTA” – a sleek building of fine dark wood etched into the green countryside.
On the inside are floor-to-ceiling windows. You sit with some strangers, enveloped in warmth, watching the wind whip across the fields. The clouds curl and dissipate, the road you traveled from hidden behind your back.
Oh right. You came for a song review.
Thomas Flynn‘s music feels like such a secret place.
In fact, as I was listening to his new single, “Following”, the eponymous lead single of his new EP, all I could think of was cloud-surfing and airy imagery couched in that same unexpected warmth. To give fire to my hunch, his instagram mimics such cloudy imagery and his “secret” page on his official website has a similar evocation in a poem by Stanley Kubitz. It reads:
“In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
‘Live in the layers,
not on the litter.'”
That’s it! “Nimbus-clouded”. Flynn provides us the terminology for his difficult-to-capture sound. But don’t imagine Flynn is all esotericism and secrecy; preceding the poem is a cute video of a monkey playing with a camera. Though he may make you work to find his message, the message itself is ultimately undiscriminating in its sincerity and silliness.
But, as usual, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. What about the song itself?
At first listen, it’s got the hallmark sound of any folk/indie guy; in fact, you might feel the forest cover of a Bon Iver song or be reminded of the stirring vocals of Father John Misty. And, cloudy imagery aside, the lyrics themselves are clearly grounded to earth:
Moving through mud
There’s a new stain around an old sock
Tilting my head up
Hear a thud, a falling corn stalk
The lyrics keep precisely to the beat, as if running alongside Flynn through the fields. It’s only when the lyrics start questioning divinity itself – whether “this” is the truth – that the vocals begin to falter outside the pace in a startling balance of windswept terror and awe.
As Flynn begs to know, “Is it okay that I don’t know?” the vocals transcend into falsetto as the simple keyboard flourishes ornamenting the song disintegrate into a more scattered beauty, like raindrops hitting the ground in an imprecise yet natural quickness. Reminiscent of Four Tet’s wing-ding side project, ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ, the song is unafraid to devolve and trip out, almost as if God is, in fact, answering. The nimbus-clouded voice!
Spellbound, I wait for a line, lyric, or message…
Then it quiets, stills – and falls back into beat.
There is no remarkable change in Flynn following this divine interchange. The lyrics reiterate from the start before remarking on “the sound of indecision”. There’s not much philosophical he can muster up at all: by the sudden end, Flynn lets us know he just wants to make his parents proud and keep on.
Perhaps that’s why I keep going back to that viewpoint in Norway. It’s symbolic of those moments when you’re running – like Flynn, whether it be through cornfields or 9-5’s – and you have to stop. For whatever reason, you stop, like they have. Maybe for the view or some sudden realization.
In that moment, you want to stay in that sudden awareness and leave the road behind.
Your mind runs, then quiets.
And then… you get up. You keep going.
These moments are so special because they mirror the delicate interplay between duty and grace, between the human necessity of survival versus our call to spirituality.
It’s incredibly difficult to linger in that overlap, but this song manages it with admirable ease.
I may not know for sure what it is Thomas Flynn is following (he doesn’t seem so sure, either), but I can tell you I’m happy to be in for the ride – scenic interludes included.