The title of Valley’s “Water the Flowers, Pray for a Garden,” could have been taken from someone’s to-do list.

The character conjured seems to need reminders of how to move forward – they’re “honestly, all out of options.” This song gives us an inside view of what loneliness sounds like.

The vocals are compressed as though pushed up against an impenetrable limit, like the inside of a car windshield or the inside of your head. They feel overwhelming while still being hard to pin down, a haze rather than a raincloud. This makes the voice feel internal. Rather than a performance to an audience, we hear the voice inside the speaker’s mind.

That voice has fairly harsh opinions about its situation. The song opens with the line:

No one knows
No one cares

The speaker describes “dressing up myself and goin’ nowhere,” a line that suggests not only preparation for going out, but also putting the self on like a costume. Getting dressed to go is an outward-looking gesture, but here it turns inward and collapses into self-consciousness.

No one loves me like I do
And to think there was a time when that was you

There are two ways to read this line. Maybe the ex-lover was once someone whose love for the speaker equaled the speaker’s self-love. Or maybe the lover was as self-absorbed as the speaker is now.

There are moments of musical joy that resist the lyric’s malaise. Piano fills flutter through like accidental visitors from happier tunes. These moments pass quickly and don’t draw attention to themselves. They are dropped into the song like seeds, imparting a bit of hope you may not even notice.

Toward the end of the song, all the instruments fall away except for an acoustic guitar, much clearer than most other sounds have been. The voice, suddenly clear too, asks, “Who’s laughing with me?” The downward fall of the melody sounds sarcastic. It’s the tone people take when they expect you to cringe and turn away.

But at least the speaker is trying to reach out.

A few sections of the song feature lyrics difficult to make out. It’s as though the speaker goes so far inside that the inner monologue gets muffled. These seem to be the most positive lyrics in the song – something about opening your eyes and seeing the bright side. The difficulty of hearing them mirrors the speaker’s difficulty in holding on to any kind of hope, but their presence affirms the same thing the piano does: that what seems like a futile gesture today may be preparing the ground for a garden tomorrow.