On Arigato, Internet! and the grace of endless beginnings
In writing this post, I have scrapped a lot of things, such as:
1) the long paragraph about how I know Reese, like in-the-flesh know her
2) how it took me so long to react to her album because I have watched her grow as an artist since we were freshmen and she was that blockmate who posted multi-track acoustic covers on Multiply.
We weren’t always friends. But for as long as I’ve known her she’s always been friends with my friends, so she’s always been there at my periphery, making something. And now here she is, front and center, with an album that is fully hers, and that’s big, isn’t it?
What I’m trying to say is that it’s one thing to know someone who is good at music, and another to watch that person get better at music. Trophy Boy was written (more than?) five years ago and I think it still holds up, but it was written by a completely different songwriter than the Reese of 2015. Around half of the songs — the older ones — in Arigato, Internet! sound like they were written by a different songwriter. And that’s why it matters. That’s why it feels real. It’s not a demonstration of versatility, but of progress, and the progress is still happening. It’s hard not to admire a person who’s worked so hard at her craft because she refuses to stay still. I’m going to spend this post going on and on about journeys and narratives and endless beginnings, but the crux of it is this: here is a person who’s decided she never wants to settle, and here is a catalog of people she’s been.
(Okay, so apparently I scrapped the long paragraph about knowing Reese, and… replaced it with two paragraphs about knowing Reese. A++ editing, me.)
Now that I’ve gotten that intro out of the way, I can finally talk about my favorite thing about Arigato, Internet!, which is the track sequencing and how complete, cohesive, and self-contained the album feels because of it. There’s more than enough variety to keep the tracks from coalescing into one blob of sound, but more importantly there’s motion. There’s story. Each song is a snapshot of a specific moment. Stitched together like this it becomes a gradient of water, sky, water.
Listening to this album as I’m sitting on the floor with my dog, listening to someone skirt the edge of a shoreline then come out on the other side changed but still breathing, I feel I am going somewhere too. I feel I am growing somewhere too. Arigato, Internet! is about journeys and the people you find along the way, and the people you lose along the way, and the people who have been beside you all along even if sometimes the people that you lose and find and have had all along are yourself. It’s about beginning, and beginning, and beginning. It’s about space: astronomical and space: figurative, about measuring the distance between yourself and others — about watching your positions shift relative to each other and making a map of it all so you can put a finger on it and say: I was here.
ON ARIGATO, INTERNET! (A LIST)
This is how things start
a thunderbolt through the heart
Arigato, Internet! begins with Exploration No. 5, a litany that lays down the themes for the succeeding songs to tread on. There’s ocean and beginnings and a fascination with “aliens and languages and things”. There’s Reese standing, windswept, at the cusp of an adventure, backpack clattering with conversation pieces and expectations on her shoulders. The water is gleaming under the vast stretch of sun, a promise of something good. Everything looks so bright: sunlight, water, gleaming like a promise. She’s saying something about thunderbolts but you’re not listening.
(You really should be listening.)
If Exploration No. 5 is about attraction, Grammar Nazi and Creeper are about what happens next.
I have a lot of reservations about Grammar Nazi because the phrase “grammar nazi” makes me extremely uncomfortable (not only because it’s historically insensitive, but also because a self-proclaimed grammar nazi is probably not super fun). Which isn’t fair: Grammar Nazi is framed like an anthem for language policing but it’s actually about the despairing frustration of crushing on a guy who can’t be bothered to put apostrophe esses on his possessives. She knows it’s not the end-all/be-all, it just really kind of blows, you know? Like Taylor Swift’s Style, the chorus is just clickbait, and the real song happens in the verses, particularly the stupidly good pre-chorus. STUPIDLY GOOD.
Creeper, on the other hand, explores the unhealthy, destructive extreme of infatuation. It’s the most textured song in the entire album, tactile like someone’s in your room touching all your things and rolling in your clothes. I 100% believe this is a song about Sketch from Skins season 2.
Code Of Kin and Slick are the advice songs. One of them is about running away. One of them is about standing your ground.
It’s really been something like a choose-your-own-adventure book so far.
They’re also the transitional songs. They push the tone of the narrative to shift, open optimism giving way to caution and heartache.
Which leads us to the beating heart of the album: Bleed.
Bleed itself is a beating heart, driven by the drum line that now and then stutters to a halt — and then she hears his voice (ooh) and feels his touch (ooh), and the beat stutters right back in with a thread of tension rippling through it. It’s tangy and metallic and hollowed, and most importantly, alive.
I thought I’d have more words about it, really: something about how the melody of the verses inhabits the lower register like it’s sinking, like it’s 2 in the afternoon and you can’t be bothered to get out of bed because you’re too numb to understand the point of daylight; something about how Reese’s voice sounds like it’s shredding itself raw when the melody crests at the chorus (now you’re coming back; can we make it?); something about the concussive vividness of the imagery: wreckage, drowning, bruises, hands.
A thunderbolt through the heart.
But I think “alive” sums it up just fine.
In Bleed, the narrator is grieving for a person who just won’t leave her alone. He’s an intruder (you’re sounding all of my alarms) who keeps getting all up in her space as memory, voice, and physical touch, when what she needs in air.
A Song About Space was written long before Bleed and is about a different kind of space, but I really enjoy how pointed and passive-aggressive it looks when they’re stacked together like this. :p
Here is the 2013 Elements performance of A Song About Space. For a long time this was the definitive version of A Song About Space for me, all ache and longing and affection in an octave I could sing along to. It’s the voice of a girl standing alone in a windless night when everything is still and the universe is quiet. A small voice, swallowed by great distances.
And then this album came out.
The primary difference between the Elements version and the album version is the position of the narrator. 2013 Reese is looking up at the stars; 2015 Reese is taking you there with the help of her friends and a key, uh, key change. Instead of isolation and longing, there’s wonder and sweetness, and the production twinkles around it, a necessary comfort in the aftermath of Bleed. The narrative is flipped from drowning to floating, and it feels like everything’s going to be okay after all.
Arigato, Internet! is bookended by the idea of beginnings. We began at the shoreline at the start of something new, and here we are at the other side, also at the start of something new.
None of the songs are about endings, not even Bleed: today is the first day, she sings because isn’t that the trick of it? Every day you wake up and every day you’re a new person even if it means that you’re a sadder person than you were yesterday. Every day is day one. It’s a book that opens and opens and opens. That’s the uphill battle of it as well as the grace. In the more succinct words of Welcome to Night Vale, we will never be the same again.
But here’s a little secret for you: no one is ever the same thing again after anything. You are never the same twice, and much of your unhappiness comes from trying to pretend that you are. Accept that you are different each day, and do so joyfully, recognizing it for the gift it is. Work within the desires and goals of the person you are currently, until you aren’t that person anymore, and everything changes once again.
Stay tuned next for a different you, and a different you, and a different you again, each “you” denying their multiple nature.
Autopilot could have been lumped together with the other happy crush songs in the beginning, but it isn’t; it’s here, after the heartache and the numbness, the words if you’re in it then I’m in it I’m in it coming out in a breathless tongue-tied lip-bitten rush, electric and electrifying and more alive than ever. In Code Of Kin, we’re told to let the saltwater give us brand new eyes, so here we are, back to where we started, but after everything we’ve been through everything looks changed.
And then, nine tracks after Exploration No. 5, there’s St. Petersburg.
My memory of St. Petersburg is being on the road when the world is still half-sleeping. It’s driving past a row of houses at 6AM while a rolling instrumentation is slipping out from the car stereo. It’s 8AM, pulling over to the nearest curb because it’s 8AM and everything is terrible and you need to breathe. It’s a song about being your own harbor so you can carry it with you anywhere you go. About making a place out of your body so you have somewhere to return to. Making a place out of your body so you can put it on a map and say: I was here.
Rest your head
rest your head
on the nook of my neck.