Bailey Miller’s new album love is a dying comes from a dark corner of folk music and is draped in minimalism and the possibilities of how sound can transform and enhance the listening experience. Cincinnati-based Bailey Miller is not just a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, banjo, violin, harp) but also an artistic polymath. Her website also shows her photographic skills (portraits, exquisite tintypes, large format), as well as collage, poetry and website design.
The running order of the album is the order in which they were written, and many tracks are first takes so retain a raw quality and honesty that means nothing feels overworked. On the opening track ‘glacier’ you can hear children playing far off in the background and ‘still’ has a blush of road noise peeking through. The chords in ‘glacier’ often steps off the familiar path to disorientating effect; especially in a song about love going cold.
Each song opens a new mood, set by the instrumentation, ‘needs’ has crisp banjo, haunted piano, and pizzicato strings as a crunchy counterpoint to a tremulous vocal line and harmonies, ‘cul-de-sac’ has underwater baritone guitar and rotating acoustic guitar to support a plaintive vocal line, ‘ink’ is pure sound art; a subterranean mulch of sounds and half-heard voices that feel like the field recording of a séance and, at the half way point, ‘goldfinch’ which has Miller acapella against a loop of frogs singing (which is closer to bird song and not the ribbits you’re probably imaging).
‘admirer’ is a painful exercise in self-criticism played out over its seven minutes and it’s followed by the mournful piano and closing lens flare of electronics on ‘hunger’ with its exceptional lyrics: “can someone become so fed up with hunger that they wind up at the beginning crucified with wonder? as their life flashes before them as they become younger can they escape the self-made spell they’re under? as they give back the riches they’ve taken by plunder can they forgive the lighting? forgive the thunder?”. The combination of harp with Miller’s voice on ‘Mirror’ is celestial and the track ‘I am trying’ has those words repeated like a mantra, sounding as much like a plea as someone trying to convince themself that they really are trying.
The album has the heft of sorrow and conveys the fragility of both love and self. Love can lift us up, change us, embolden us but also leave us broken, and the two final tracks ‘still’ and ‘love is dying’ expose emotions in the way illustrations in a medical textbook peel back the flesh and show us how things really work. The album crescendos both musically and lyrically with:
“what was joy now we grieve
no meaning left to unweave
we’ll say I love you as we leave
mumbled between dry heaves
cuz love is a dying
love is a dying”
love is a dying is worth repeated listens (with headphones on) to get passed the feeling of a single lightbulb in a bare room and to let the nuance drift in via your subconscious. It is at times beautiful, unnerving (in all the best ways), haunting and often so delicate that you fear if you make a sound, you will scare it away.
Review by Paul F Cook