I must admit that when I listened to the first song on Pearla’s Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming for the very first time, I was a bit alienated. What I heard sounded like gently electrified country-folk, nice to listen to but more the kind of music that, if you heard it on a summer day on the street, would make you stop and nod your head complaisantly for a minute before you would keep on walking.
However, I came to appreciate the song more, the deeper I dived into the whole record. The name of this song is Strong; it is in terms of lyrics definitely original and with its pleasant musical design it really adds up to the whole record and completes it in its variety of colors – but: I don’t feel like it’s entirely representative of what awaits you on Oh Glistening Onion…
How Do You Keep On Fighting?
In my personal opinion, the second song, Ming The Clam, is a bit more suitable for getting a first impression of the overall design of the record as well as the dominating topic.
“I think about it all the time
What if you were to die?”
Ming was a clam that was found in 2006 at the coast of Iceland. At this point, it was estimated to be more than 500 years old and is until today the oldest known being that has ever lived. Pearla adapts this story to point out the question she will not get tired asking on this record: What is it worth achieving things or to love someone in the face of the eternal truth that everything and everyone is finite? Referring to Ming she asks “How did she keep on fighting?”
There is a deeply felt apathy and confusion Pearla is trying to deal with throughout the whole album – and the way she does it is truly exceptional. The third song, Effort, starts with a hovering soundscape of synthesizers and acoustic guitar creating a feeling of disconnection, as if it was yourself hovering over the ground, while the lyrics say “Tomorrow you might be gone”. Then the soundscape gets replaced by a singular repetitive guitar pattern, illustrating the lines
“I’m small and I feel that way in the morning
Everyone’s leaving the city for someplace pretty
And I’m lonely”
This pattern stops abruptly when the first chorus starts off-beat with just Pearla’s unaccompanied voice holding you in the air, before heavy percussion puts your feet back on the ground. This correlates with the chorus’ lyrics “I don’t know why It takes so much effort to feel good these days” that she sings with such intensity that it feels like she is reconnecting with herself by giving in to her own pain; and though it tears you apart, it comforts you at the same time because it’s a moment of profound honesty.
“A New Kind Of Longing”
The way in which Pearla illustrates her lyrics with sound makes this album distinctive. Some songs almost feel like little pieces of drama, set in the singer’s inner world where the sound creates a backdrop for her thoughts. The Place With No Weather starts off with a swelling mix of distorted electric guitars and drums that makes you feel like a storm is coming, but then, at its highpoint it is suddenly replaced by soft and warm synths and a wobbly guitar sound – it feels like someone just turned of gravity.
“Cause I believe there’s a planet where
Nobody could see nor hear nor think
Nor do anything but love and float around”
Pearla uses these two different soundscapes as equivalents for two different worlds: the one she is trying to escape from and the one she is wishing for (the place with no weather). Every time a notion of the outside world intrudes into this ideal fantasy place, we hear the distorted electric guitar from the intro again, cutting through the cotton-candy-like synths with its sharp sound.
With About Hunger, About Love the musician draws more from the country sound-spectrum again similar to the very first song of the album. The typical pedal steel guitar sound and the folky harmonies of the background vocals seem like a slightly escapist reminder to ‘the good old time’ where everything was safe and warm and create an interesting contrast to the song’s lyrics, saying:
“I’ve got a new kind of lonesome
A new kind of longing
I don’t know what it’s for
I don’t know how to stop it”
Towards the middle of the album, Pearla‘s tone changes: The lyrics of With and Balm are more focused on healing and accepting than hurting over the limitations of life.
To the immensity
To the randomness
To the blue blue blue blue blue” (With)
With its waltzing rhythm, With adds a moment of lightness and ease to the record, the gently distorted soft-rock guitar and brass elements raising the image of a nostalgic high school-ball scene in my head. Balm continues this nostalgic notion with its soft string- and brass arrangements. We listen to Pearla processing, finding a new perspective:
“The time will come to stabilize
We were built not to stay alive
But to build and to leave behind
To see miracle and memorize
How the light feels in your palm”
In the final song, The Mysterious Bubble Of The Turkey Swamp, the singer points out the ever-repeating circle of life and death by singing about someone who was there last year and is gone now, but also about the baby of her cousin who was a new-born a year ago and is walking now. The song seems like a temporary conclusion, an approximation to accepting that we cannot know everything about life and death.
“And after all these years on Earth
I still don’t know a thing
Are we the temporary bubbles in the rising of the spring?
One day I’ll know for sure but each day ‘til then is for learning
That the only way to love again is breathing in”
So, if you just look for a colorful but also coherently produced album – this is for you. If you appreciate thoughtful and poetic lyrics – this is also for you. Just be warned that you might end up lying on the wooden floor of your attic room, starring out the window into the blue sky, watching the clouds moving and thinking thoughts about what’s even the point of human existence. It happened to me because of this record. And I haven’t found any answers yet – but at least I started asking questions.
Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming is out now via Spacebomb Records.