While this is her third album, I have to confess it’s my first encounter with the non-binary Saskatchewan-based singer-songwriter. Clearly I have been missing out. A mix of Americana and more pop/rock styled numbers, Soft Focus Futures is very much a post-divorce album, searching for reasons, raking through the ashes and looking to rebuild. It opens in compelling form with the waltzing strum of ‘Table For One’, a devastating snapshot of the aftermath of her marriage collapsing after four years as the reality sets in, the lyrics laced with bitter irony in “I have my cake and eat it too”. Nash kept the house and fixed the tap, but even so it’s cold comfort when friends say “well at least you’ll get something out of it”. You might expect anger, but instead there’s an air of resignation and acceptance in the lines “I know I’ll see you but I hope it feels like running into an old friend”. The sadness is overwhelming.
It’s followed by the introduction of electric guitar and drums with the slow swaying ‘Artifact’, again veined with disbelief (“At one time you adored me”) and weighing heavy with loneliness (“Our love is an island where we used to live/It was swallowed by the ocean”), persuading herself “I don’t mind this metal vessel/I’ve convinced myself it’s freedom”.
Evocative of the rockier side of Suzanne Vega, ‘Quiet’ takes the pace up to a scurrying scamper with driving drums and synths as Nash speaks about the awkward silences between lovers that portend nothing good, while the metronomic rhythmic throb, synth lines and guitar notes of ‘My Own Heart’ concerns learning to “spend my days alone in our house”, listening to sad songs and wondering where the blame lies, building to a crescendo before fading way to be replaced by the echoing electric guitar bedrocking a snapshot of the psychological (suicidal) realities of isolation (“how long will it take you to notice something’s wrong, the record keeps skipping and I left the oven on”), with the lines “lock the door, check it, twice making sure nobody gets inside” about self-protection, both physically and emotionally.
It’s thematically linked to the reverb guitar notes of ‘Another Silent Night’, Nash’s fragile warbling twang reminiscing about growing up on the family’s small farm and trying to find an anchor in the scenario, but the hurt pricked by memories and regrets (“by now I thought I’d have babies and through their eyes I’d see the seasons, but every time I tried love somebody was leaving, now I’m cursing at the radio for playing those old songs”), the silence of loneliness becoming overwhelming.
With a steady throbbing drum beat as its foundation, the five-minute pulsing indie rock ‘Chew Quietly/Clean Slate’ shifts from the angst of loss to the anxieties about starting over and not giving the wrong impression on dates (“I can’t chew quietly”), mirrored in the hurried delivery of the lines and the bursts of loud guitar, transforming into the steady drumbeat and repeated mantra lyrics second part coda. By striking contrast, the lullaby-like reverie ‘Room 804’, from whence comes the album title, is stripped right back, opening with her naked vocals, distant, sparse shimmering guitar and tinkling keys gradually appearing to reflect the tenderness of pre-break-up obliviousness (“wondering if you’ll be at home, longing to not be alone, hoping that you’ll put up with my shit”), which, of course, as a twangy reverb break arrives, makes the collapse, “now that it’s all so quiet”, all the more painful.
It leads, appropriately, into the wary questioning ‘Are We Still In Love?’ with its rhythmic trot, resonant guitar notes, soaring vocals complemented by warm (almost Northern brass) horns, the image of stores and schools being closed down a portent of the answer she doesn’t want to know. It ends with ‘Table For One (Reprise)’, a duet with Diga from Canadian alt-rock outfit Digawolf, opening unaccompanied before the instruments, horns again included, enfold it, building a euphoric, cathartic tone that looks to a future of hope beyond the loss and the single place setting. As break-up and divorce albums go, this is up there with such soul baring, splintered heart greats as For Emma, Forever Ago, Blood On The Tracks, Tapestry, Shoot Out The Lights and Blue.
Artist’s website: www.megannash.ca
‘Table For One’ – official video: