First Impressions: love is a dying by Bailey Miller

I first pushed play on Cincinnati-based Bailey Miller’s sophomore album a month ago and, in the weeks since, rare has it been that I haven’t returned to it. It’s a minimalistic, moody, dark-hued set of songs that charts the inner-workings of a broken heart, one part ambient and one part folk. In a figurative sense, she stands at the shadow’s edge and mines the gradients of life and love with the deftness of a wounded poet.

The 11-track, 47-minute album opens with “glacier,” a seven-minute opus that poses a not-so-simple question: “Oh what did I do with my love?” It’s a delicate dance that demands one’s full attention, with Miller’s vocals rising from a mumble to a full-throated plea and back again. “Love is a black lake/reflecting our mistakes/rippling our heartache/silence in its wake.” The recognition that it’s over doesn’t make moving on easier, of course. It’s a first step.

“needs” questions how to choke off desire, while “cul-de-sac”—which I spotlighted last month—delves into the loneliness that can splinter a couple. “ink,” meanwhile, is an ambient exercise that sounds like sonar gone amok; I like it, but have a hunch some may find it a tad much. “goldfinch,” on the other hand, would’ve been home on any of the Fast Folk compilations of yore. It weaves in worries of the Covid Age along with sorrow of what could have been: “A year has passed, a year has fled/I thought I’d put the past to bed/now my nerves are fraying, my heart is lead/feelings I doused to get ahead.”

“admirer,” another 7-minute song, finds her coming to grips with the relationship split, while “hunger” delves into shedding the self-made spells we cast upon ourselves. Though the aforementioned ambient flourishes are woven into the mix, “mirror” is another old-fashioned folk song that finds her exploring how past heartbreaks bleed into the present. “i am trying” is literally that one phrase repeated over an acoustic guitar for a minute and 40 seconds; it’s a resonant wonder. “still” is the next step in the healing process, when the past is left behind and love is given a second chance. The title track furthers that realization, yet hedges the bet by painting a portrait of love as little more than a slowly withering thing. 

Aside from the use of lowercase throughout her titles and lyrics, a tact best left to e.e. cummings (and even with him it’s often annoying), the songs on love is a dying pull the listener to them. Miller seemingly stands a few steps away from the microphone, compelling us to lean in and listen. Though I loathe the comparison between song lyrics and poems, at their best her lyrics are indeed akin to poetry—and not the pie-eyed wordplay of college freshman, but experienced practitioners. The ambient accents add to the overall mood, too. Musically speaking, it’s a bit how Suzanne Vega may have sounded if she’d worked with Daniel Lanois instead of producer Mitchell Froom.

The track list:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s