I woke up bleary-eyed on Friday to an equally bleary morning. The sun struggled to shine through natural clouds and unnatural haze, blanketing the earth with a dull, heavy light. New York City was not the best place to be for inhabiting the space of Solar Power, the new album from Lorde. Despite all of her late-night-show appearances on Manhattan rooftops, the interviews in the botanical garden in the Bronx, and her general presence in the city, there could hardly be a less appropriate setting to listen to such an organic work. With my deadline approaching swiftly, I set about finding the best place to properly review the work.
From an auditory perspective, there couldn’t have been a worse situation than the one I found myself in on the day of release. West Harlem is a lively place, between car horns on Broadway and the echoing riddims of reggaeton through the streets, and it is nearly impossible to shut away the action. I was prepared to combat this with a pair of noise-cancelling Sennheiser headphones, headphones that I dropped, leading to their snapping and inability to function. In far too much of a rush to troubleshoot a solution, I picked up a pair of $20 earbuds from the Boost Mobile store on 125th. Having suffered through the public ritual of having the curly-haired employee take the anti-theft tag off of a pair of earbuds not worth stealing, I continued on my journey to listen to the album. Listening to one song as a test, I was unsurprised to find the sound tinny and treble-heavy, but even through these shortcomings, Solar Power had a dark, warm richness to its mix.
When thinking about the best place to enjoy Solar Power, one thought immediately came to mind: Gabe’s Hyundai Sonata. One of my closest friends in high school, Gabe drove a car that lacked an aux input and, given the limitations on Bluetooth pairing, he chose to listen to compact discs. For a period of around three years, the only CD he had available was Pure Heroine. It was a point of humour among our friends, but Gabe wore his fandom proudly on his sleeve. When 2017 came around, as we all prepared to graduate, a new CD entered his car’s collection: Melodrama. Driving on hot summer nights, we would crank “Sober II/Melodrama” until the dark bass and drum programming reached egregious volumes, and we would shout along with “Green Light” on the streets of Evanston. My friendship with Gabe created a strong nostalgic connection to Lorde on a personal level, and Solar Power provided nostalgia on a musical level. The project drips in the folksy psychedelia of early David Bowie, the Beatles, and several other late 60s acts. The minimal percussion across the tracklist is acoustic, bright, and not overpowering, and the warm organicism of the album evokes the summer nights driving under elm trees.
The luminescent cover and the preceding singles to the project prompted me to take my inferior set-up to the beach. I settled on Brighton Beach at Coney Island because, of all the beaches I had never visited in New York, Brighton was right off of the Q line, a train that I was more familiar with than the others. Having sat in a rolling desk chair on that train, in conjunction with moving a flatscreen television via train, I felt that I could rely upon this most unreliable of trains. I left for the 1 line at 125th, and transferred at 42nd/Times Square. Of all the places in the city, Times Square and its subway station are the most antithetical to Solar Power. The decades of schmutz and grime that have built up in the station, the piercing LED displays, and the crowds fight against the intimacy of Lorde’s vocal delivery and folksy orchestration. The claustrophobic surroundings of the trains at rush hour, hurtling underground and lurching every direction, struggle against the placid undulations of the album. Surrounded by the mechanical, Solar Power provided grounding in the natural.
As the train crossed the Manhattan Bridge, I was greeted by the same grey semi-natural haze to which I awoke. Briefly, I considered getting off at Parkside Av and appreciating the album in Prospect Park. However, I shunted the idea, for now I was dead set on the beach plan; in retrospect, Prospect would have been the perfect spot for the album to be heard. The lush blossoming of the opening track “The Path”, the lullaby feelings of “Stoned At The Nail Salon”, and the deeply rooted meditations of “Oceanic Feeling” were all perfectly suited to the stillness provided by Prospect Lake. While an active space for the community, there was enough beautiful isolation off the beaten path to inhabit the atmosphere of the record. But I was married to the idea of the beach for this focused listening exercise, so I continued on the racketing Q train.
Coney Island was a mistake. The gaudiness of the boardwalk, the pigeons scavenging for trash, and still the inescapable echoes of reggaeton did not provide the natural grounding that I sought for Solar Power. The title track and “Dominoes” are lovely upbeat rhythmic settings for playing Spikeball in the sand, but beyond that, the album is too placid to appreciate in a populated setting like Coney Island. The album does not preach any environmental message, but it evokes how beautiful it can be to return to the simplicity of nature, a nature where Coney Island stands as a monument to its destruction. Disappointed with confronting the reality of my perceptions, I shambled back to the subway stop, cursed forever with sand in my shoes.
Once I returned uptown, I waited 10 minutes for the one working elevator of three to take me to my home on the 27th floor. Walking in the door, exhausted from the effort and disappointed with the results of my quest, I sat in the grounded hanging chair in our living room and played the album once more. The sun began to set over the Hudson, and the grey haze gave way to an iridescent display of blues, golds, and violets as the sun’s lidded eyes grew heavier. Alone in my apartment, observing nature in comfort and isolation, I had found the perfect place to listen to Solar Power. And in that setting, I found regenerative properties from the setting sun and the placid waves of Lorde’s elastic intimacy. After all of this isolation, Lorde sat down next to me and did not force any interaction, but sat in loneliness alongside me, providing reassurance that this is weird (“Thank you for flying Strange Airlines”). The deeply-rooted organic aesthetic cohesion of the album grounded me, healed me, and provided a space to cherish the little moments.