Just over a year ago, I was introduced to the writer Liz Pelly and her critiques of Spotify. Her writing has been hugely influential in my thinking and writing about “chill” music and how I consume it. How do I relate to this occasionally minimal, always texture-focused music when I listen to it passively? What’s revealed to me when I actively consume it? For a large number of young people, this is their pop music: introspective, emo-influenced lyrics that swell and ebb with music that moves on the continuum from intimate to expansive. As with any popular genre, these stylistic markers can be utilized with creativity and honesty of expression, or they can be xeroxed at your local Walmart.
While employing some of the musical tropes that have drawn in sadbois and sadgurls across the globe, Patient Hand’s Stoic immediately separates itself from the pack with striking honesty and lyrical individualisms. What other Spotify-core song would dare open with “Masturbating/in a bar bathroom/Why did I call myself Living Room” (in the slow-starting but eventually anthemic “I Shaved My Father’s Face”)!? It’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of a songwriter speaking in abstract terms on universal themes of love and loss, but potentially much more visceral to grapple with specific moments of shame and see how you relate to the writer’s confession.
In the same way that chill playlists encourage continued listening by obscuring when one song ends and another begins, Patient Hands uses gapless transitions to create Stoic’s seamless experience. A distinction needs to be made here between seamless and sameness. The journey that the listener takes from the post-rock leads in “Anaesthetic” to dream-folk strumming in “Calm” is one of gentle gradients and a unifying haze of introspection. When that gentle gradient is interrupted by a field-recording or drone (like in “Envelopment”), the diversion is that much more noticeable.
The crux of what makes Stoic work is that it is context-building and not context-agnostic. There’s no denying the special kind of magic in a song like Dean Lewis’s “Waves” that makes it possible to resonate with so many listeners, but what does it say when that song can underpin so many vastly different contexts? Is it universally meaningful or ultimately empty and meaningless ? I could argue both sides. Specificity is a risk when you can potentially alienate your audience, but in this way, Patient Hands’s Stoic is an artful subversion of the “Streambait Pop” that Liz Pelly identified. You are encouraged to participate through both lean-back listening and deeper emotional engagement. Save, follow, and put it in your playlists now and see where Patient Hands takes you.