After seeing Beach House this past weekend, I’ve been sinking into slow and moody voices ever since. I was racking my brain for a song I discovered recently, but all I could remember was a smooth, ethereal sound with very little music in the background.
I sleuthed my Angel Olsen collection trying to find the earworm, until I realized it was another ethereal voice I was thinking of – South African singer/songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou.
I first heard her catchy track Witches (which is definitely worth listening to) a few months ago, but it’s the opener of her 2021 release Glow that got me hooked.
“Only When I” starts with light keys and a velvet voice to greet you. The vocals alone are arresting, but the opening lyrics are also too good not to mention:
You didn't teach me, I taught myself through you You didn't heal me, but I healed from the things that you do
It’s Alice’s delivery and vocal range that makes this poetry worth repeating. The entire first minute before the drums come in is silky smooth. Though we start with this empowering statement, where the speaker reclaims her growth post-relationship, the narrative shifts quickly.
We didn't want each other, baby, we wanted something so much more To feel the rarest of feelings that which opens all doors Don't shut them all too quickly, there might not always be more I'll spread your love so thickly so I can reminisce some more
Gripping onto that “rarest of feelings,” she warns us that they don’t come too often, and so lets herself get lost in reminiscing. I also love the “quickly/thickly” rhyme here.
These moments of missing are all part of the grieving process – rethinking, reshaping, wallowing in memory. And why not spend 3 minutes and 51 seconds entertaining a fantasy? The dreamy chimes in the music reflect this as well.
Listening activity: Lazing on a Sunday morning. Maybe crying too.
Again slowing us down, stripping down the already stripped-down sound, she admits in another staggering line, “Sometimes it feels like I could give it all up to be held by you/ But that’s not all the time, no, not all the time.”
The contradiction, and playful conceit, comes through in the chorus. Though the speaker has learned and healed, there’s nothing quite like taking a dip into “what if?” territory.
We learn many a situation where the speaker entertains these moments of weakness. The conditions are plenty, and touch on all those lonely sore spots.
Only when I can't breathe Only when I wanna believe Only when it's late at night Only when I don't feel right Only when I touch my body Only when I'm feeling naughty Only when you're far away, far away, far away
The reveal here begs the question about what times she doesn’t feel like giving it all up. To be fair, it really is not *all* the time. For now, it’s time to let her airy voice and this beautiful melody dazzle us on repeat.
This live version is so beautiful, but also do yourself a favor and listen to the album-version.