Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Song of the Day #330 - Perfume Genius - Dark Parts

I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart


I was listening to Sufjan's "Impossible Soul" earlier today but then I realized I had something to do in the next 20 minutes and had to cut it short, and thus started jokingly thinking about some way that I could get "speedrun" the song. That got me thinking about Put Your Back N 2 It, which I had always praised for its ability to bring about an emotional journey on the level of Sufjan's work in short, simple, songs. And then, like many times in the past, I latched back onto this song, and suddenly the fun summer jams I was praising recently feel several seasons away. What strange sources can suddenly flood you with depression... but I think such vulnerability is the essence of being human. Anyways.

Like Sufjan's most ambitious songs, Perfume Genius moves through several complete arcs of mythologizing and deconstruction in order to approach a difficult emotional issue. But where Sufjan casts through history, "Dark Parts" evokes only God. And where the grandness of Sufjan's work (at least his work before C&L) takes place in a space of the personal-universal, where the connections between the stories and his life are ambiguous, the reality of the story here is all too clear: Mike Hadreas's mother was abused by her father. Real shit. Let's really get into it, because I feel like if I'm too aloof or abstract with this it'll feel pointless.

The opening, with a piano that could be called "rollicking", and the instrumentation that builds up around it, seems like we're jumping into some Sufjan-esque journey of self-discovery and acceptance, and in that respect, it works well. It works so well that the disturbing lyrics might wash through you as "sure, sure, 'God', 'grandpa', sounds nice", and "he broke the elastic on your waist" might not register at all. When you hit the second half, though, it's clear that there is something more emotionally significant going on. And the complete comprehension is thus somewhat "secret", lurking behind you only in retrospect, and all the more chilling.

There's a hierarchy in play where God is "bigger" than the abhorrent acts of the grandfather, and yet those acts are still committed. There is something called "God" that is righteousness and yet something can subvert it. But, even if that is broken, she herself won't be broken, because, as we've established, there is something greater than the wrongs committed, something greater and more meaningful and even larger. Probably something can be said about the patriarchal roles of both grandfather and God but that's I think the basic idea. It's the sort of haunting complex lesson of humanity that Sufjan often espouses, one where you aren't sure if it adds up to positive or negative but you know there's a bit of both and that it will settle into you deep.

But that isn't it: that's just the first verse. And on the second, when he starts it in parallel to the first, you think might just be a further reinforcement, another example. But no: he cuts the pattern short with "but he's long gone", and then a noticeably empty line, and then the very ambiguous "the love you feel is strong/the love you feel is stronger", which can be parsed in reference to so many things, with so many implied "than"s and "for"s, or perhaps chronologically, and suddenly you feel a little warmer, a little closer, but even more complex, even more human, even further from a definitive answer. The music, too, reaches an apex of tension, with a staticky roar welling up and percussion condensing, signifying the irreconcilability of all these emotions and hierarchies and injustices.

After that is one of my favorite transitions of all time. It is the absolute ideal of the sort of transition I praised so heavily in the work of Sun Kil Moon or Sufjan Stevens, accomplished with just as much emotional revolution in roughly 1/3rd the time. It really is suddenly the very heart of the song before it: all pretense cast aside, all instrumentation cast aside, all philosophizing cast aside, all good and evil. All is reduced to this piano, heartbreakingly acoustic in its intricate resonances, and heartbeating in its simplicity, and a single vocal line that can be given no descriptor. Put Your Back N 2 It is full of such lines, it is my favorite aspect of the album, and this is my favorite one. There is no posturing or structure or aesthetic or needless poetics. It moves wholly independently of the rhythms and melodies around it. It is pure emotion pouring forth in a singular unqualified unfiltered statement.

The statement is this: "I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart". It isn't an offer, it's a fact. It is not miraculous. It is not a complex revelation of the heart. It is not redemption. The dark parts still exist. It is just: you have shared this with me, and now the darkness that was part of you is now also part of me. This is, sometimes, all we can do. It is selfless. It is beautifully selfless. To take that upon yourself, even if the pain is only duplicated, because it is the only thing you can do, and then they won't be alone. That is what it means to be human, too. I think this is depicted for us when a second voice harmonizes slightly on those final quiet "oooh"s. I don't know if they're happy or sad, It is a moment which, although I have listened to this song maybe 20 times in a row while writing this (it was a tough one), never fails to grip me.

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