What precisely makes a sad song sad? Harmony? Melody? Is the aural texture most important? Or can a potent libretto overpower compelling sounds? What if the separate components of a song are at odds? Do contrasting humors merely cancel each other out, like a balanced emotional pH, or do they concoct something new?
The good songs, of course, make something new. Musical alchemy. While it’s tricky to tease out a song’s commanding element, the video for “Falling” — by L.A. band Bouquet, premiered here in association with MOCAtv — demonstrates how a hymn with emotional tension can surpass a track plainly “happy” or “sad.” Behold, firstly, the purity of Bouquet’s vocals by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs (formerly of San Francisco folk group, The Finches), their optimism, open clarity. When the tempo picks up, the singer leans into her words, as if she can’t wait to dive deeper in. It’s a subtle effect, but strong, as her delivery quite literally “falls” forward. But what can be good about falling? Falling in love, sure. Or exhilaration, a roller coaster drop. And let us not forget the warmth sometimes found in a plunging, molasses dive, as the legions of shoegaze have often showcased.
And yet the falling that Bouquet describes is different. “Something… there’s something wrong” is the lyric that kicks off the tempo change. It “colors everything,” she says. An insightful listener should discern the apparent disconnect between the tone of the track’s lyrics and its content. We find a woman eager to sound coherent and frank, but her message is one about faltering. Over time, her excitement becomes less convincing, until it’s almost desperate; eventually, it seems to be nothing more than anxious self-assurance, a mask of denial, even as she knows something has gone terribly off course. While Bouquet sounds emotionally bright, crisp, their message leads instead to something dark, something somehow much more honest.
It is a testament to the complexity of human emotion that we demand complex songs. Thankfully, every once in a while, we get a band who can deliver. Sometimes falling really does feel exactly like this.
Bouquet is releasing their first physical musical object (a marbled 7-inch vinyl) at All Tomorrow’s Parties, today (May 10) in Camber Sands, UK, where they will perform.