Frida Hyvönen - “Once I Was A Serene Teenaged Child” (live)
Back to Until Death Comes. I’m going to take care of the rest of Frida Hyvönen’s debut all at once, because: (a) time, and (b) I’m afraid of giving the impression, early on, that her music is worth your attention solely due to the lyrics. Here’s the antidote to such an impression, via Tom Ewing:
Lyrical analysis of pop can be a fool’s game, but here the music provides an answer and the words are a riddle – how do you get to how a record feels from what it says? Perhaps you can’t: feelings are complicated.
Yessir! My heart leaped to find this yesterday, after writing about the same song he’s describing, ABBA’s “The Day Before You Came.” He could be talking about Until Death Comes, which contains a lot of musical answers to lyrical riddles. But I should also point out that—when the album’s words are clearest, its storytelling perspectives unmistakable, its feelings palpable on the lyric sheet; when its music is prettiest, numb with surrender—it also contains lyrical answers to musical riddles, i.e. what is it, this time, that activates the pianist’s hands? Feelings are complicated, indeed.
Listening to Hyvönen’s later work, I’ve sometimes found myself thinking of her in the context of Patti Smith, the poet and artist who found great work in the world of music, and became a musician, and known as a musician. Listening to Until Death Comes, that’s obviously not Hyvönen’s case—she does so much piano playing, she seems to have been at it forever—but still the fool’s game, of lyrical analysis, of treating the musician as a songwriter and the songwriter as a poet, beckons.
After first track “I Drive My Friend,” Hyvönen’s playing will sometimes shift to an adjacent pallor or mode, but she makes no grand announcements. The predominant approach: Heavy is the left hand. To talk about the music on Until Death Comes, first or only, would require the intelligence of a piano teacher or a hypnotist. I wish I had it.
Hyvönen will earn an exclamation point much more spectacularly, with the next album’s “London!” but this is the song that gives Until Death Comes its title, so a helpless cry of vitality in the manner of I Want To Live!, but somewhat more muted than that, makes sense.
Again, you better damn well pay attention when she employs a rhyme: “As I tried to leave they looked my way, and whispered stay.” “They” are the sons of the drinker, who reflects on his shambles of a life after a night out, chastened, like the characters in Ironweed or Barfly, by daylight, hence the piano’s lighter, softer retracing of the lines it followed on “I Drive My Friend.”
“You Never Got Me Right”
Furious repetition of words and a vocal that slowly loses composure and goes into the red (“such a lack of taste!”) tease out the anger of the piano part, which would otherwise go along as gently and steadily as ever. The pianist’s mechanical motion is unmistakably therapeutic, this time.
Don’t you understand don’t you understand don’t you understand don’t you understand?
How lonely it gets how lonely it gets how lonely it gets how lonely it gets?
He doesn’t. He seems as incapable of compassion and understanding as the guy who shows up later on Silence Is Wild’s “Science.” To not be “got right” is especially unforgivable, this time, after she’s so recently, and sensitively, gone outside herself, inhabited the voice, taken on the flaws, of the narrator from “Djuna!” You don’t have to be as expansive with understanding as she is, but you can at least listen to her. This guy deserves to be written out; her song is the next best thing.
“Once I Was A Serene Teenaged Child”
I don’t want your body so close and dismembered, don’t take off your pants ‘cause I don’t want to see it.
I love this moment as much as Morrissey singing “I’m not a man” on his new album. I love this moment as much as the cover of Death Grips’ NO LOVE DEEP WEB, its featured object rendered inert by my iPod’s tiny display. I still believe that art, which spent centuries doing the opposite, can one day put away the phallus, forever.
Aside from brief interlude “Valerie,” this is the first song to disrupt the album’s established meter. Serenity is a waltz. In the voice of the teenaged child, she sings about “the feeling of pride and the loneliness to it.” Loneliness, of course, but wherefore her pride? She doesn’t need me to repeat it.
Hyvönen has a great deal of love for this confused teenaged child, and has already seen the bitter end of the song’s events—loneliness examined, mistaken pride turned inside out, serenity extinguished, an ending string of oh’s replaced with actual words, insight—the whole chain reaction that leads to the adult’s more measured songs, elsewhere on the album.
“Come Another Night”
The first glimpse of Hyvönen as a bandleader, or as the center of a full-band arrangement, but it might be the smallest song here, a compact pop tune, all its sounds softened to make for an easeful trip across the airwaves. Orchestral revelation will have to wait for her next album. This song’s greatest contribution to her songbook might be the way it just begins to suggest the malleability of the word “come.”
The meter of the album’s first half returns, and this time it inherits a perhaps satirical gospel feeling, as Hyvönen sings about immaculate conception (“See I have made him pregnant!”) and the Word.
“Straight Thin Line”
Hyvönen interprets things told to her by Agnes (Martin, presumably, the abstract expressionist painter thanked, along with Patti Smith, in the album’s credits). The straight thin lines of Hyvönen’s playing mirror the straight thin lines of Martin’s paintings, but no sooner does she suggest the ultimate goal of her station at the piano, as her piano-centered debut draws to a close (“straighten out my bends and my curls / how to escape my shape”) than she seems ready to abandon it, to step out and dance more, to embody the curves and the rhythm rather than long for them. The words are conditional: “If I was a straight thin line.” Simple, but annihilating in its simplicity.