On the heartbreaking Morning & Melancholia EP, Le Ren grapples with the loss of a loved one and the burden of carrying on shared memories.
The thing about memory is that it doesn’t last forever. More than a few novels, movies, and TV shows have dealt with this specific problem: what happens when there’s no one around to remember a specific person or event anymore? If two people experience a single event, that shared memory will only exist as long as those two people are still around. It’s one of the twin tragedies Lauren Spear (Le Ren) dealt with two years ago: her ex-boyfriend died in a car accident, and now she’s the only one to carry on the memories she shared with him.
It’s this backdrop of loss that makes Morning & Melancholia (a gorgeous EP on its own) all the more of a gut punch. The title plays on Sigmund Freud’s 1918 essay Mourning and Melancholia, in which he argues that both mourning and melancholia are responses to grief. The former takes place in the conscious mind as one tries to move on, while the latter takes place in the unconscious mind as it grapples with something seemingly unexplainable. Both feelings are on full display here, where Spear reflects on the time spent with him and also tries to find a way — any way — to make sense of what’s happened.
With no context given, “Love Can’t Be the Only Reason to Stay” and “How to Begin to Say Goodbye” could just as easily be about any end of a relationship. With nothing but a hypnotic chord progression and Spear’s vocals (she’s 26 but sings as though she’s accumulated decades more in life experience), “Love Can’t Be The Only Reason to Stay” fills a room with its quietness. Spear sings of only realizing too late how she felt about him, commenting at one point, “I loved you ‘til you beat my heart black and blue.” As she moves onto “How to Begin to Say Goodbye”, her vocals get even more expressive, and begin painting familiar but no less heartbreaking images: “Where are you when she calls you and your voice is stuck in time/On old machines.” The sound mirrors the swells in Spear’s emotions later in the song as an organ rises in the background.
The subtext of Morning & Melancholia becomes text with “If I Had Wings,” the most full-fledged country song of the bunch, complete with some luscious pedal steel. This is melancholia at work: Spear wishes she could grow a pair of wings and see her former lover in heaven. That feeling is not uncommon for a grieving person to have but the ambiguity of how she might get these wings casts a darker shadow over this already sombre song. Finally, Spear grapples with the burden of carrying her shared memories in “The Day I Lose My Mind”. She realizes that as soon as she forgets about him, those memories will be gone forever.
There’s not an inch of fat to be found on Morning & Melancholia; every bit of quiet feels like a deliberate choice. There’s no singular or easy way to deal with a traumatic event, and Spear shows that being quiet and contemplative can be just as devastating as lashing out.