Folklore Sessions Presents:
Molly Parden + Support TBC
February 6th 2024
£12adv | 18+
It’s tempting to describe Molly Parden’s stunning new album as “dreamy.” Sacramented is reflective, romantic, full of longing; it is suffused with the light of late evening and indeed references dreams in nearly one third of this body of work. The soundscapes, melodies, lyrics, chord movements, and especially Parden’s vocal performances work together to create at times a dreamlike atmosphere. Synthesizers and abstracted guitars glide around frozen reverbs, a piano bench creaks beneath the whisper of a vintage microphone hiss. Strings and woodwinds weave themselves midair into fluttering arpeggios. Old longings awaken: “Take me to that faraway look in your eyes,” Parden sings in the opening track “Wash Me In Rosemary”. Two songs later in “I See Right Now”, she confesses, “I had to give your letters back / Baby they were just too good to have.”
Rendering these moments and memories in song so tenderly is remarkable in its own right. It takes immense artistry and inspiration to truthfully capture and coherently portray one’s private thoughts and experiences. Further still to make it all appear so effortless. Most artists rest satisfied having wrestled their [inner/abstract life] into tangible form. But dreams and memories, however beautiful, however painful, are still just dreams and memories. [Or perhaps: they aren’t just dreams and memories.] They desire our interpretation and cry out for significance. They yearn for resolution and acceptance.
Molly Parden has done what might be called the “inner work.” She has fought with her heartaches, the images that persist and haunt, for meaning. She has gone through experience into wisdom and truth, and she continues to do this work before our very ears, openly and invitingly. After years of steeping in the work of Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, she pays homage to his light and tenderness on the existential-leaning track 4, “Where Do All Of Our Passing Days Go?,” an adaptation of O’Donohue’s beautiful pondering about the passing of time, the meeting place of memories. In this song, we encounter someone “Looking for love in the wrong spots/Thinking about the wrong thoughts.” Amid a skittering and dragging rhythm section, lazily strummed acoustic guitars steeped in melancholy, Parden wonders “What do I do with the memories?” Buoyed by chiming vibraphones and single shivering notes from an electric guitar, Parden puts forth a fascinating resolve to a seemingly terrifying quandary: “Maybe I'll never find someone / Maybe my love is just mine.” She takes loneliness to task with one of the sharpest weapons against it: gratitude.
She offers a brief litany of things that solitude affords her. “No trouble reaching the top shelf /Going to shows by my own self /Open the blinds in the morning / Just some of the things I'm enjoying.” It’s ultimately not so important whether this is a statement of evidence that has brought her to a new place of understanding and acceptance, or is an aspirational rehearsal of something she wants to make true by singing it into existence. Like a psalm, it is probably both. She has earned our trust either way and convinces us when she reaches the end: “I'm not afraid of being lonely like I used to be.”
Much more than a dream, Sacramented recalls one of those rare, special conversations with what the Celtic call an “Anam cara” or “soul friend.” It’s one of those afternoon conversations so deep and intimate that you’ve lost track of time in shared confessions, celebrations, advice, laughter, tears. You’ve suddenly found yourselves in a twilit room, each other’s presence deeply felt in a revelatory afterglow. It’s what one might call communion.
The production on Sacramented does a lot of work to help create this atmosphere. It’s packed with intricate instrumentation while still holding space for the listener to move about in, as if we’re allowed the chance to walk around the room and pick up significant objects, holding them up to the slanted light. Woodwind flourishes, muted brass wanderings, fleeting stacks of background harmonies, mellow vibraphones, old drum machines all combine toward a common end. The bright chime of tambourine and glockenspiel keep us afloat in the dimly lit chamber of the title track, “Sacramented.” As the rhythm section pushes us onward, we hear metallic scrapes across electric guitars and fuzzed out lead lines buzzing around Parden’s pure voice, which sits pristinely at the center of it all.
Hearing Molly Parden live is always a special experience - yes, her voice does sound that good in person - but Sacramented offers a deep listening experience that rewards repeated listens and high quality headphones. Richly textured and beautifully wrought, the record undoubtedly represents the best music she’s released yet. It’s an outward sign of an invisible grace.