“Of Sound Mind & Memory” shows everyone’s favorite multihyphenate at her most contemplative.
I’ve always associated Reese Lansangan with the playful and whimsical — from her art, to her fashion sense down to her music. Her 2016 debut album “Arigato, Internet!” saw her singing about her fixation on outer space and her disgust for boys with poor grammar, but this year’s four-track EP “Of Sound Mind & Memory” shows us an arguably more somber and, dare I say, mature Reese without taking away the merits of her songwriting that indeed seem to come from having sound mind and memory.
With a handful exceptions both live and in the studio, Lansangan seems to have shied away from a full-band set-up, opting to maximize the magic her guitar (or ukulele) and voice bring to the table. Aristophanes, the first and shortest track on the EP, even manages to use Lansangan’s voice as its sole player, manipulated in ways akin to Bon Iver’s Woods or Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek. The layers of vocal harmonies sans any instrument (save for maybe a voice changer) lend body to the retelling of Aristophanes’ speech in Aristotle’s Symposium. But this is no ordinary retelling, not a dull paraphrase of the creation myth we might have encountered at least once in our lives — that we walked (perhaps, rolled) the earth with our other half cut from us by Zeus, leaving us longing until an imminent reunion. Lansangan sings the track both with longing and confidence, “Oh how I pine / It will be fine,” giving us that sense of hope that perhaps all the loneliness we currently feel will indeed pay off sometime in the future.
The second track, Machines and Men, sees Lansangan pinning down details from her childhood in two-year intervals since the year she was born, and then contemplating about a certain jadedness that comes with age. Though specific in terms of years, the experiences remain universal and relatable. (Most, if not all of us, did scrape our knees and knock off some of our teeth while playing in our early years.) The song establishes a character in the now, looking back with a gentle acceptance of the course of life.
Both Aristophanes and Machines and Men are older songs in Reese’s catalog, the former released on her Soundcloud five years ago and the latter in a live session two years ago. Looking and listening to the feeling they emit, it makes sense that Reese held off putting it in “Arigato, Internet!,” waiting for it to incubate with the next two tracks that allow the EP its cohesiveness.
All of Lansangan’s personas in her songs for this EP have one thing in common: they’ve all had their share of growing up (but never old enough, not yet). For the Fickle sees a more romantic character who might just be a little fed up with wishy-washy lovers. One can relate to this as the fickle, another as its speaker. The longing For the Fickle depicts is similar to the one we’ve encountered in Aristophanes except this time, we’ve had potential halves that simply don’t end up the right fit. Lansangan’s repetition of “No I don’t want just any love / I want steady love” hits you where it’s supposed to.
While Lansangan has often delved in (acoustic) pop and even a bit of blues for her last album, the last track of the EP, Wildwood no doubt enters folk territory, almost reminiscent of the The Staves circa “Dead & Born & Grown.” Here we see Lansangan at her most earnest and content, almost leaving a cynic like me in disbelief as to how a 26-year-old such as her could achieve this kind of peace albeit perhaps momentarily. Once you pair this with the live session she’s shot in the woods, it immediately transports you to a space of calm and serenity with bird chirps to match.
Lansangan set out to tell a story with “Of Sound Mind & Memory,” and an effective one at that, moving slowly from track to track beginning with encoded lullabies to innocent child’s play to imminent heartbreak and finally with an acceptance that despite all the growing up we’ve done and will still do, it will all be fine.