words by maria sledmere
photograph by crystal joy tuliszewski
May is a month of transitions, the world opening up like the bright new corolla of a flower. No matter what happens, we incant through the winter, spring will come surely. Luckily, against the odds, it does. We step out to a blizzard of cherry blossoms making fairy tale luxury of the suburbs, ferns unfurling in our gardens, bluebells in the woods and children riding bikes across gilded concrete. We step out to sunlight. When things aren’t quite right in your mind, the gold and the green always seem a surprise; a far cry from the depressive reflections of December’s skeletal trees and icy, fleeting light. It’s a treat then, to listen to Portland-based Gillian Frances’ EP, Born Yesterday, on Good Cheer Records, her voice like a soothing glass of warm milk at midnight, trembling on the windowsill. A multi-instrumentalist, Frances lends her quietly dazzling croon to careful acoustic arrangements which best suit the hours when we fall into dawn. Maybe sleepless, maybe waking up to a head full of reveries.
“I ate too many butterflies that day”, Frances sings on ‘Pet Diamond’, “the stomach ache still won’t go away”. The EP’s title, Born Yesterday, implies a naivety about reality, a defamiliarised perspective on love and pain and the everyday, fresh with childhood greenness and charm: “We’re still children now / Vanilla-scented adolescence”. There’s a sense of waking up from a long week, a long night, an intense experience; waking up still dazed and unsticking ourselves from the membranes of sleep. On ‘Pet Diamond’, over softly ambient water sounds and lacings of brass, Frances sings of swimming away from the stomach-ache anxiety clenched tight inside her. Her subtle and pared arrangements might recall Grouper, or the surreal lyric landscapes of Broadcast; but there’s also a confessional, old-timey twang, warble and harmonic impulse that recalls Loma and early Warpaint. With every track, she seems to pursue the porousness of sleep’s membrane: opening tiny portals into dreams; the slightest changes to the world made with twists of words.
There’s a simple intimacy in this: sharing a nighttime walk with someone, or else withdrawing into the comfort of paradoxically relatable solipsism: “I don’t wanna share my mind”. You can imagine two people floating slowly down a road, doing figures of eight and sometimes becoming the same person. Maybe this is love, or maybe this is someone dancing with their childhood self. Frances’ lyrics are vulnerable and poignant, admitting retreat into the stasis of a moment: “I’ve never wanted to watch anything unfold / I know I’m beautiful and that you’re gold”. How many times, feeling down, do we replay the sweeter memories, burning through us again and again like a good screen kiss? But what happens when we surround ourselves with too many unreachable feelings—there’s a danger of drowning in that molten gold.
It’s as though Frances curls herself deeper within the fantastic swirls of her observations; language, in all its lushness, becomes a supplement for reality. There are days when some of us can’t leave the house, or can’t make eye contact with other people; days when it’s best we admit defeat and find solace in a wayward imagination. Days when everything in our lives, the bad habits and unrequited desires, boils down to the ‘blue shit’. Frances fashions this lovely vernacular for talking about depression in a strangely relatable way, weaving her lo-fi fables of identity crisis and escape: “My neighbour’s dog ran away because he was secretly a cat”.
Frances credits her songwriting background to a ten-year stint with Rock & Roll Camp for Girls, a coming-of-age experience that helped her pierce through the veils of misrepresentation in the music industry: ‘I began learning about sexism, feminism, and the power behind protest music’. Born Yesterday isn’t protest music in the extroverted, call-to-arms sense, but its value lies in a clever poetics of empathy. It’s easy to insert yourself into her wistful, minimalist narratives, the bedroom reflections, the yearning to escape: “Let’s drink ourselves away”. Returning to willed innocence, her songs offer glimmers of cautious hope. We should really step out in that sunlight, let spring cling to our skin, let goodness in. Even when it hurts, be wider awake in the morning.
Pre order the EP here via Good Cheer Records