And all I know is that I don’t know anything
When I try to coincide
With my plans,
I will try to learn I will try to hear
Today, there was no work. I just woke up and did nothing but research master’s programs for two solid hours. During so another RÜFÜS DU SOL record wound itself to an end (not the latest one, that’s saved for this weekend), the appartment declared itself a mess, my tangled hair tickled my nose and neck and then a frankly appalling stench announced itself. And in this hodge-podge morning routine of realizing just how fucking stale my life was today, two things came to pass by my mind:
“I should clean myself,”
and “I want to listen to some Gwyn Fowler.”
Actually, that’s a lie. I decided to listen to The Ophelias’ latest record while soaking up water at hotter-than-recommended levels in a shower that too often floods the bathroom (honestly once is one time too many, first four weeks in this apartment be damned). The steam was rising, the music was too; they’re kind of like a much lighter Chastity Belt contemporary, and, my apologies to Julia Shapiro, but for a morning that had greyer prospects than traveling cross-country in a bus (we’re talking more than an hour-and-a-half here, it doesn’t matter which country) I needed music with a standard of propulsion via introspection, rather than sedentary sentimentality. Something with more momentum than a Julien Baker or Hand Habits-type funk. This was almost a “how great are those Ophelia’s ?” piece and don’t worry Ophelias, you’re still great, but now it’s for a completely different reason : I’ve found you a partner. A partner for your playlist. A partner for when I fall into this calico mood, a melancholy feeling with more mixed colors than a bag of jelly beans.
Her name is Gwyn Fowler. And it was the Ophelias who reminded me of her.
Now, nearly no one has probably heard of Gwyn Fowler. Very few people probably remember the reddit thread that brought her and her first EP, Patterns, to light. Even fewer people probably still listen to her. Not hard to imagine, actually, that her music output is light; four self-released extended-players as a solo artist (the last finding its way to surface in 2014) and two in her brother-sister duo, Bobby and Suzy. All of them on bandcamp. And in a music industry so buzzed by the word scene, a term mise-en-cliché, Fowler has none. And it’d be tempting to construct her one, or just haphazardly place in her the same category as KT Tunstall and Sara Bareilles or Carole King and Judy Collins. That whole lady-and-her-music mismosh of female singer-songwriters that has given us everyone from the likes of Joan Baez to Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell to Fiona Applegate. A cadre of songstresses sans drama and who would sound better at home performing in a parlour room rather than on stage…
But it’s hard for someone with music on the brain around-the-clock to conceive of an artist revue without making a least one comparison (or, what was it? Eight? Eight). What’s even harder to conceive is how lucky it was to stumble on such a pure vocal talent without some record company shoving it down my throat as the next hot thing. Hell, even Lorde—an artist who bucked music trends—was billed by Warner Music as an artist that… bucks music trends. That Gwyn Fowler hasn’t been spotted by some talent agent or identified on an American Idol story piece is frankly what makes her DIY-approach more genuine than the letters D, I and Y are now. On the very same reddit thread that brought her to light, she remarks how much the music industry wants to make money off of products rather than artists. And she’s absolutely right, those Gorillaz watches are absolutely gaudy pieces of tailored tinsel, all color-coded to animated bandmates 2-D, Murdoc, Noodles and Russell—whichever you’d prefer, really.
But then again, she probably wasn’t dealing in such premonitions. And more to the point, it’s a relief that her music is a person and not a product. Be it the simple layered-paper, painting or photography EP covers or be it the fact that her voice contains an infectiously heartfelt innocence mixed with just the right amount of soulful experience. She’s not naive—no, no, no, no, no, no—Patterns alone should smash any such statement to smithereens. The title track doesn’t slow itself down with sluggish progressions. It’s quiet, pensive heartbreak molded over fast-and-soft fingerpicking goodness. It’s the pluckiest “I’m sorry I broke your heart” cut I’ve ever listened to. And this is apt as any track appellate with such an abrasive synonym. It cuts. And it contrasts itself with the rest of the record which plays all in chord changes, none of which she plays to her detriment—the only sign that Fowler is human is her voice. She has ambitions, this dame, and she strives to hit some notes just a little too much out of her vocal range. Oops—but it plays into the extended-player’s favour; a record with lyrics written on wine-splotched paper, this is.
So it all adds to her charm. Something which she has in spades. A je-ne-sais-quoi of impermeable quality. And one of two distinguishing factors for why she might all of the sudden appear in the flux of my music feed. The other factor is just that, she just pops into my head. She’s one of the few artists that just apparates into my life at the right time. Like a visit from an old friend you haven’t seen in years. It had been just three years since she last populated the routine of my life and before that it was a two-year gap. Via Facebook, I know she’s married (the same lucky guy who made that éloge of a reddit thread all those many years), I know she’s now a mother, I know that she’s been focusing on making music with her brother. And I know all of this despite not actually knowing her personally.
Yet, a family friend of mine once related a hearsay quote to me (you know the ones—they just have no discernible origin) that a good friend is someone you can drop out of contact with for 10-years or so and then, on the drop-of-a-hat, the friendship picks up again like no time has passed at all. A bit hammed up, that quote is, but I don’t really remember quotes; I remember sentiments. And ignoring all the lipservice that I could give for how the music is for the listener just as much as it is for the artist, there’s a similar sentiment every time I put Patterns on. A similar sentiment just as Fowler’s voice picks up on “For Me” to sing the penultimate verse: she’s right, like all good old friends are. And this EP is an old friend giving some tried-true advice: we don’t know anything, our plans are made to be foiled—most often by ourselves (and what famed archnemeses we are to ourselves)—and at the end of the day we are all just trying to learn how to cope with and please the proverbial we.
And so while I sat there, freshly come home after a supermarket trip, a quick tofu-over-couscous meal with some rosé and existential dread of the inevitable dig through some labyrinthine websites for masters programs, domestic and international (French comparative literature, y’know?), I couldn’t help but remark how much more wonderful it would be to stop myself and jettison some, admittedly gushy, gratitude into the universe. So I started writing on a whim about some extremely independent South Carolinan caroler of a quite impersonal-yet-personal nature when I should be doing a million other things. All because someone’s record made my day just that much more tranquil and serene after a recent deluge of Mogwai, Warpaint, Odesza and RÜFÜS DU SOL. Like a finger down the back of my neck, these melodies coo and coax some casual peace through the synapses. They are made by someone who isn’t a friend, but whose music ticks the box as if made by one.
So take this piece as that, Mrs. Fowler: a meandering fourteen-hundred-and-summat word thank-you letter/EP retrospective from a stranger. It’s the best thing I could think of to make your day a little less grey like you’ve made mine.
Album Artist: Gwyn Fowler
Producer: Gwyn Fowler
Label: Labels? We don’t need no stinkin’ labels!
Genres: Indie Folk, Singer-Songwriter
- “For Me”
- “Venn Diagram”
- “Phantom Pain”
- “Bury It”
- “The Quietness”