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Thursday, December 03, 2020

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Music Mondays: Dissecting the best indie rock song of 2020

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

“Holy Show” is the first thing you hear on Pillow Queens’ debut album, and more than likely, it’s the first thing you’ll ever hear from the Irish indie rock band. On many Bandcamp pages, if you hit play, the album won’t start with Track 1; it’ll actually start with something like the lead single — maybe Track 3 or even Track 5. 

Pillow Queens don’t make that mistake. The band crafted a song that feels as big and grand as it is immediate and catchy, and it makes sure it’s your first impression. 

And nothing else on the “In Waiting"s tracklist tries to capture that same feeling. The song is a mountain of post-punk, Glasgow dream pop and alt-rock that the band never tries to climb again, instead settling for songs that lean stronger in one of those genre directions. “Child of Prague” is a breezy, slightly twee-pop jam that follows “Holy Show;” “A Dog’s Life” is more goth and sarcastic, and album closer “Donaghmede” overwhelms, but leaves out the refrain that might stick in your skull for weeks on end.

“Holy Show” builds, but does so quickly. First Pillow Queens lays the foundation with amp noise you might get before guitars are even strummed, then Sarah Corcoran starts singing, and Pamela Connolly starts strumming her bass, and it’s something different altogether. There’s just enough reverb on Corcoran’s voice to create the sense of remembering that the song describes. It’s about memory and a way of remembering in which small details come first and then the whole picture — Rachel Lyons’s drums throw buckets of paint onto the blank space and Cathy McGuinness’s gentle guitar riff jogs it all. 

Every impressionistic musical detail mirrors Corcoran’s lyrics, but you don’t have to really follow any narrative to feel everything she’s feeling. In fact, I didn’t dive deep into the lyrics until this week, after more than a month of obsession, spinning this song over and over just for the sticky melodies, the soaring, distorted guitar in the last chorus. 

What stuck with me though, without trying to put every line of poetry together, is Corcoran’s distinct way of delivering these lines, somewhere between whining and urging, stuck in the middle of confession and staying cool. She’s a pretty understated singer, but there’s still a strong undercurrent of emotion that hits a breaking point in the back half that’s truly transcendent. 

Pillow Queens is a band with all-queer members, and this identity is clarified in the music video for “Holy Show,” in which two female lovers share quiet moments together, ache when they’re apart, and finally kiss when the song reaches its climax. The video’s director, Kate Dolan, said she wanted to capture a lesbian relationship that wasn’t hyper-sexualized or through a male gaze, and the song captures that same intimacy. 

"Holy Show" feels riddled with inside jokes, references that we aren’t quite meant to get, memories that don’t need to be talked about directly: “If you remember a thing that I said / Spare me all the details / Send me on your regales.” And there’s something about how Corcoran sings that last line and hits “regales,” with a kind of snotty emphasis. It’s the type of emotional beat you hit when you’re deep into an argument and the only ammo you have left is something snarky, reflexive and bitter. 

But it’s not a bitter song by any means. Instead it uses those small moments to offer an honest portrait of a romantic relationship where the lovers have been forced to spend some time apart. It’s difficult to unpack the precise narrative with lyrics like these: “Just pulling up and barely knowing / You shouldn't have to repeat / Tonight we'll watch a holy showing / A silent short starring me.” But there is a clear arc here regardless. 

It’s easy to want to remember a fractured relationship as greater than it was, certainly easier than it really was. With the lines “If you remember a thing about it / Tell me that it's not bad,” it’s not just about our narrator remembering, but also her wanting confirmation from her lover (ex-lover?) that she remembers "it" the same way. Or at least that she can summon that kind of warm feeling, regardless of its veracity. 

Contact opinions and columns editor Conner Evans at conner.evans@richmond.edu.

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