Whitney Ballen has developed a lyrical quality that measures vulnerability against strength. Her skillset is nuanced. Her delivery toys with the expectation of genre. Across her last couple of releases, You’re a Shooting Star, I’m a Sinking Ship, and Pretend Songs she subtly shifted shapes to accommodate subject matter against sounds. Makes sense that she’d continue her softly twisting trajectory, and surprise everyone with a cover of fka Twigs “Cellophane”, which she shares today, Valentine’s Day 2020.
It could be argued that Valentine’s Day is a celebration for the emotionally stunted. The ‘love’ that is discussed on florists’ cards preys on the soft-of-mind. It is not the authentic, metaphysical emotion that bonds lives together. It’s a nebulous notion, predicated on the insecurities of a soul. To turn away from these insecurities, to consider yourself as whole with no need to go a-courting is an act of anti-consumerist revolt. And let’s ask ourselves; if self confidence is an act of revolt – what kind of world are we living in? Where do we find real love, genuine affection, and the authentic tokens required to express ourselves…
“Cellophane” is a song that knows. When fka Twigs wrote these lyrics she laid herself bare. Wrapped tightly; inhibited by transparency, yet also liberated in her expression of longing. Ballen’s take on this is surprising; dipping into the alt-pop genre, and yet it is not to be entirely unexpected.
Ballen’s previous work deals with a similar palette. The sacred measure of words metered out in love. The weight and significance of connections, transparency, humanity. The low and eternal flame of things being not quite right and perhaps forever beyond us. She sings, “Why don’t I do if for you?” and everyone’s hearts dismantle.
fka Twigs drew praise for her vocal performance of “Cellophane”, it was a peerless performance, and yet Ballen achieves something unique here. She leans in on the source material, but she doesn’t try to emulate. This is a Ballen track.
On one level a piano ballad, the simplicity of the track is deceptive. (Much of Ballen’s previous work is deceptively simple) Here’s a progression. Here’s a string of sustained chords. Her voice reaches back to something of her own truth, something that is entirely her own – but also everyone’s. Ballen’s business is in addressing the flashpoint of an emotion, through the effects of its blast. She’s genius at this – and so, of course this song is fucking perfect for her approach.
Ballen, who has never struggled with granting access to her most intimate thoughts, is apparently aware that “Cellophane” is only a bunch of words. This is only song. But it’s a perfect song, and it’s a structure that she pours herself into, so as to extract authenticity from artifice.
Aside from all of this – it’s just fucking beautiful. It may be sex music, it may be crying music. Depends on the day. Depends on how hurt or healed you are. This is the oscillation of life that Ballen digs into and delivers.
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