“Sun Poisoning”

I’m writing this staring out at a town in southern France through a frame of narrow cypresses, shifting greenery, and a mixed floral palette that both soothes and singes the eyes in the midday light. It’s impossibly beautiful here. It’s also impossibly hot. 

Most of Europe is currently in the throes of a record-breaking heat wave, with temperatures consistently climbing into the mid-40s. I’ve never felt anything like it. And as we all know, these extreme climate-related events are becoming more intense and more common. It’s hard not to enjoy the views and the customs so synonymous with Provence, but it’s also difficult to ignore the creeping fear, sadness, and existential dread that accompanies the hard truths of global heating. Stories of continental heat waves feel like preambles; sober warnings of more profound chaos. 

At this moment, dread and joy are intertwined, and a song like “Sun Poisoning” — the newest from Whitby, Ontario’s Chastity — feels more than appropriate. Aside from the fact that the title infers how lethal this current dose of sun feels, it’s a song that beautifully captures both the confusion of my contradictory emotions and the inevitability of melancholy in the modern world. 

Citing the influence of another zeitgeist-defining song, Brandon Williams uses bright acoustic guitar and massive choruses to underpin his explorations of confusion, intimacy, and melancholy. The brilliance lies in how he uses familiar, minimal elements to maximum effect. A simple phrase (“free and not free; free and empty”) seems to point out an essential contradiction: how can a society where potential often seems limitless feel so closed off, meaningless and doomed? How can we have such a nuanced understanding of nature’s tenuous balance, while destructive actions willingly proceed unchanged? When unified purpose seems impossible and the future seems so compromised, even the happiest most beautiful aspects of our experience can carry tinges of despair, fear, and sadness. 

While I certainly don’t think Williams wrote “Sun Poisoning” to be overtly political, its urgency, its power, and its broad scope invites these kinds of interpretations. After all, melancholy is most often vague and contradiction ill-defined; even the most intimate feelings can feel fundamentally linked to larger trends. This confusing sadness that infiltrates even the most serene moments feels like an inherent part of living on the cusp of something potentially terrible. It’s how this setting can be so pleasing even as the heat seems to melt it all away.