Photo by Aman Rahman
I’m afraid of endings, and I think about them constantly. I suppose I have a disposition for worry. I worry about the end of relationships, the end of school and even the end of seasons.
Sometimes, the seasons fade so seamlessly into each other that I don’t realize when I’ve left summer for fall. That delicate, nearly unnoticeable shift means I don’t grieve for what I’ve left behind in summer like sunshine in late afternoon and mornings without the necessity of hot coffee. I find that summer has learned to linger deeper into the later months of the year, but, when I notice this, I’m filled with dread. When I realize how unnatural it is to be enjoying the spectacle of heat so late in the year, I get nervous. I think of climate news: record levels of carbon dioxide, methane leaking from arctic ice and sea levels rising. My worry shifts from speculating about the end of summer to the end of humanity.
This year, the grasp of summer didn’t last too long. November arrived with a sudden, uncompromising cold, and with that cold I arrived at Adam Melchor’s opening for Laufey at the Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan.
When I’m faced with a domineering and shapeshifting worry, I tend to escape to music. This is how I found myself watching Adam Melchor perform live on stage. In the days before his performance, I felt burdened by the reminders of all that’s wrong with the world. Not just headlines of climate catastrophe, but also depictions of war, poverty, injustice and monumental suffering. I registered to vote and thought about how insufficient my actions were compared to the issues that preoccupied my worrying. I reminded myself that my education is oriented around preparation for tackling issues at a larger scale — then, my worries shifted again to a midterm and two papers due within a week. I checked my phone and the cycle restarted.
To cope with it, I called out for work and got on a train.
Melchor, a singer-songwriter born in New Jersey and now living in L.A., released his newest EP FRUITLAND just after starting a North American tour with Laufey. The opening track “BIGTIMEGOODTIME” demonstrates that Melchor is on a similar wavelength as me. The lyrics create a frantic kaleidoscope of the ways in which the world overwhelms: “Rising tides and mudslides / Gender rights and anti-Semites / Wonder why I just can’t sleep at night.” This shifting of worldly anxiety between the environmental, political and personal is something I share with Melchor. I too have trouble falling asleep when anxiety comes. But Melchor’s answer to worrying — at least in this track — is different from mine. In the chorus, he repeats that he’s “looking for a big time, good time now.” That lyric shift is accompanied by a sonic shift. As Melchor moves from his listing of concerns to the track’s titular anthem, the sound shifts from a stripped down melodic line accompanied by guitar to swelling vocals and the entrance of other instruments. In that chorus, he answers the problem of worry with revelry. At the same time, he sounds almost resigned — as though reveling is all he can do, as though it’s the only option.
My response to worry isn’t a disillusioned pursuit of good times. Of course I want to enjoy life, but looking for an escape doesn’t make my worries go away — it lets me forget for just a moment. I do turn to music to ease my anxieties — just in a different way.
On nights when I just can’t sleep, I sometimes play especially soft songs to calm down. These songs, which soothe my restlessness, become lullabies. But when I listen to a lullaby, I’m not trying to feel nothing. Instead, I’m giving myself the time and space to feel a particular feeling. I can acknowledge where my worries come from and accept them. I can make peace with them for just a moment.
Melchor also has a habit of making music into lullabies. On his Instagram profile, there is a phone number — 973-264-4172 — which puts a texter on a list to receive acoustic covers of his and other artists’ works. Through that project, he honed a tender, acoustic sound. His first album, Melchor Lullaby Hotline Vol. 1, is devoted to that soft yet hearty style. In this way, “BIGTIMEGOODTIME” is a departure for Melchor where he embraces a lyric restlessness that complicates the nature of his songwriting. His new EP, speaking more broadly, is noisier than his earlier music, and his lyrical fixation on endings is amplified by a more percussive and irregular soundscape which is, at times, staticky or invaded by murmuring background voices.
On the November night I saw Melchor perform, he didn’t sing “BIGTIMEGOODTIME.” He sang his lullabies. The only tracks he did sing from the new EP, “ADELAIDE” and “PEACH,” fit the description of a lullaby. The set was stripped down and consisted of just his voice and his guitar. He opened his set with a brief cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and with just the first two notes — that grandiose octave leap from “some-” to the cloud-scraping “where” — Melchor’s tenacity as a musician became clear. The quality and control of his vocals were striking, and I’d learn later that he had studied opera in school.
Melchor’s true answer to dealing with the overwhelmingness of the world has something to do with love. Every song he performed was simultaneously a lullaby and a love song. In “ADELAIDE,” Melchor returns to the thread of the overwhelming introduced in “BIGTIMEGOODTIME” on different terms. Here, it is embodied in the subject of the song. In singing that “there’s a world outside your door,” Melchor’s frame becomes smaller. This isn’t the kaleidoscopic view of the world from the opening track. There’s only Melchor and Adelaide. As he sings, “There’s a way to ask for more / So, ask for more, Adelaide,” his view of the world shifts. There is tenderness in these lyrics — the world is something we can and should be a part of.
In “PEACH,” Melchor turns to a feeling of helplessness or powerlessness when in love. He becomes weak to the subject of the song, and submits to just taking what he can get. In a sustained, higher register, Melchor sings: “Who knows when this life ends / When it stops or starts again?” Suddenly, we return to Melchor’s fixation on endings, and his fluctuating frantic responses to them. In his EP, noise and outburst are a response to the aggressions of the world. However, in the lullabies of his set, he invokes a more tender and soothing style of music. Melchor is a romantic — love is never far from his mind as made clear from his set — but the subject of FRUITLAND is not love itself. Rather, the EP is oriented around what to do with love. That is, it levies love against the stubbornness of life. The pursuit of love, expressed especially in “ADELAIDE,” is a kind of bravery. To love is to resist the overwhelmingness of the world that “BIGTIMEGOODTIME” introduces.
But where does this leave us? Melchor’s responses to an overbearing world are contradictory. In “BIGTIMEGOODTIME,” his answer is to party. In “ADELAIDE,” it’s to practice love in the face of worry. In his lullabies, it’s to simply let himself feel what he feels.
The last track of Melchor’s EP, fittingly titled “RESOLUTION,” ties these threads together. There’s a restlessness that pervades the song: swirling synths in the background, a simple percussive melody and quiet plucked strings. Melchor’s voice shifts to a lower register and sounds earthy and comfortable. He’s still circling this idea of endings in repeating the phrase “this is the end,” but it seems he’s ready to just give in and accept the pessimism of worry. Then, about halfway through the track there’s a huge tonal shift — electric guitars and a pervasive crunching sound enters. As the song nears its end, the backing vocals rise and build only to cut out suddenly at the end of each phrase. Quiet invades the song in these abrupt moments.
Endings are all around us — we embrace them constantly without realizing. Just now, the sentence before this one ended, and soon this one, too, will end. There is no avoiding endings in the broadest sense. But even in turning to its more tragic forms — the end of a life, of a relationship or of a way of living — there’s no real alternative. Living and celebrating life entails experiencing the end of things. That kind of loss is unextractable from the better parts of living. There is no life or love without the prospect of an eventual end. What I took away from Melchor’s FRUITLAND is that we have to cope — we need, somehow, to get through this mess of things. But we can’t avoid life in an attempt to avoid loss. We need to love and sing about love when it strikes us. Sometimes, we need to cry and a lullaby can help us. And other times, we just need to party — to remember that there’s life all around us.
So yes, summer is over, and it sucks. And it sucks that summer lasts longer than it used to — that our planet is changing and that there’s only so much I can do to change that. I hate that time has passed, and that it feels like it keeps passing faster. And I hate that I wouldn’t have realized that summer had passed if not for the sudden cold.
Summer is over, but it also happened — and all the joys of summer are irremovable from the feelings I feel now. School ends because there’s a career and a new city to move to. Melchor sang opera until he started songwriting. Endings are all around us, and they are scary, but they are a part of us. Nothing exists without this relationality — there are no vacuums for feelings. So, when I listen to a lullaby and feel only one thing for a moment, it’s nice. Then, it’s back to the noise.