Beginning with washes of cymbal that give way into a thudding, steady synth-infused beat, “Ace of Cups” starts the album with probably its most single-ready moment. But even this song is thick with tension and mood, excellently setting the stage. It is also, curiously, one of the more oblique songs on the record, with Fink refraining, “When you are happy, you are loved / You can fill up my cup.” Other moments on the album are a little more readily visible, like the pristine “You Can Be Loved,” whose stringy guitars remind me almost of a Modern Mouse tune. There’s the stream-of-conscious recollections of the title track, which could have jammed out for four more minutes with no complaint from me. Then there’s the lush, hooky “You Are a Mystery” that contains a fabulous use for the musical saw, reminding listeners of the canine spirit that is lying under the feet of the whole record.
But this is nothing compared to the two songs that more readily address the inspirational loss. First, there’s the stripped-bare “Poor Little Bear,” which Fink sounds as though she is singing directly to her departed friend and no one else. (...)
And then there’s “Holy Holy,” the best song she’s ever recorded. Spectral, spider-web guitars that sparkle like dew, and a classic-sounding melody give way to lines like “We come into this world all alone / And we leave with not much more.” The pain and sorrow is fresh, and when the chorus of “Holy, holy, my love” rings out in close, indelible harmony, followed by a perfect keyboard bloom, it leaves me weeping, reaching out for the answers Fink was trying to grasp.
The struggle of losing a loved one is almost impossible to understand unless you’ve been through it yourself. Not to put down art about death from people who haven’t experienced it as profoundly as they are writing it, but there is a certain knowledge that comes with feeling it first hand, even when it leaves us feeling like we know nothing. Fink may not have found all her answers, but as the album closes with the bright, hopeful “All Hearts Will Beat Again,” you feel confident that she has reached solid ground, and sometimes, as I can attest, that’s really the best answer we can find.
Fink began mining her brain for answers to her questions about death, the seeming helplessness of a life just headed toward death, and how we as humans deal with that life. These answers come out in songs like “You Can be Loved”, where Fink sings, “It’s what you take, ’cause nothing ever goes how you want in life/ When beauty fades, she’ll be its ghost, so put your arms into mine,” over the top of Modest Mouse-like bouncing guitars and hissing cymbals.
The song, like most on the album, floats on a mist of Fink’s layered vocals and an endless expanse of reverb. The music fits remarkably with the excavation of the subconscious, and on tracks such as the hymn-like “Holy Holy” and the direct ode to Wilson, “Poor Little Bear”, the music is simple and beautiful. But over the length of the album, it gets a bit stale and tiring. Fink’s vocals float infinitely in a sea of echo, layering, and clean guitars throughout; the equation works on singular instances, but after 10 songs it’s too much — like a relaxation tape in a spa. The idea may be a dreamlike meditation, and that fits, but on the whole it becomes unremarkable over the span of 35 or so minutes. Fink has written a sonically pretty album from both the heart and the mind, but her hopes, fears, and answers get lost in the overwhelming fog of distance and space.
(consequence of sound)