Midwife Prayer Hands

[Antiquated Future; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: dream pop, slowcore
Others: Grouper, Clear Horizon

Midwife’s Madeline Johnston births songs from sound. Born watchful of being born, Prayer Hands — her second release following 2017’s Like Author, Like Daughter — sounds wary of bearing birthed into a life that must consume it, into a world where life is absent except in the prayer of birth’s passage. A birth that is not the correlate of death, because if you can’t live forever, how can you live for now — ? — unless one lives by being born and birthing oneself in beauty (to paraphrase that other midwife), or lives in the surrendering of life to that through which life lives — but a birth that is life’s immanence, the midwife here amid life’s elsewhere.

Though all songs are pitched perilously above the abyssal noise that is their destiny — and whose heart isn’t quickened by dawn’s clear silence? — hers embrace their shroud of static, finding form in their dissolution. Though all songs bear too much life — and what are songs if not our ghosts pleading to be heard, the unborn in us needing voices? — for us lifelessly to hold, hers, borne in stillness, offer only their emptiness — let life use them, let life flow through them.

As if there is no threshold more fragile than dawn, her voice quivers as the light wavers. One can’t hear whether this softer light is emergent to the day in which it will dissolve or rather if it languishes in the intensity of its swoon, stillborn borne on to stillness. Her voice quavering seems at once to drift ghostly above the bass-moored fuzz still weighted in its darkness or else, as on “Forever” singing, “I’m not in my body,” to seep into the noise that will be its shroud.

But where are you? Did no one see you? Did no one hear you answer when they called? “Do you have a spare key to your room? It took me a minute to find it, but I found it, and I unlocked your room, but I can’t seem to find you anywhere?” Where are you, life, if your voice is only always loss? Always only loss, even when life is emerging, is still to emerge? Breathy wisps of longing tethered weakly to depth’s darkness rise only to fall and flee only to arrive. A birth that is born, but not to life. To where? To here.

Prayer Hands is the sound of this maieutic medium — but is it life through which life lives? prayer, or longing? empty hands that offer only their emptiness? or a wisp of smoke unraveling itself like as the title track seems to fold in on its own sound? There, a single guitar phrase weightlessly dissolves the percussive materiality of the striking of a string into echo, echo into the tender silence in its wake.

Once angels were demons, and the daemonic was the spirit of the in between through which all angelos delivered our lack. This intimacy lingers, if only in the distance between life’s angelic hope and its fierce demonic loss. On “Demon” as on “Angel,” we hear the ghosts of our prayers filtered through their abandonment. Somewhere deep in the cracks and crypts of our heart lingers the glassy-eyed child of our hope. While we have strayed from life, abandoned by it as much as we have abandoned it, life lingers, fringed, faded.

The light quivers, because the day must be its dissolution. So too prayers for those whose prayers remain unanswered. So too hands that have nothing left to offer but their emptiness. Yet the light rises from the perishing of this pink that I wish would linger forever, and we must turn our face to the day. We must, even if our loves and loss we leave in darkness. We must, since we carry the memory of its tenderness as on our blushing cheeks.

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