Monday, April 10, 2017

How Do You Wish You Felt? - Embarrass Yourself by Philippa Zang

I first came across Philippa Zang's music on The Le Sigh, who premiered the short 'n' sweet video for Zang's track how do u feel last month.

Perhaps it's just the sight of that animated pink teacup smiling alongside his cracked brethren on a charity shop shelf, but how do u feel makes me feel really weepy. (Weepy in a happy sort of way, mind you - not the sort of weepy you get when Ellie dies at the beginning of Up, but the sort of weepy you get towards the end of the film when Carl finds her 'Thanks for the adventure - now go have a new one!' message.)

"How do you feel? How do you wish you felt?"

The two questions that begin and end this song are striking in their simplicity and their hopefulness. Obviously, feeling good isn't always just as easy as just deciding to feel good - many people don't have the means or the physical ability to do what would make them happy, and many more struggle with mental health issues like depression and anxiety - but in prompting you to gauge the distance between where you are and where you'd like to be, Zang's gorgeous little gameboy pop song feels like it's gifting you a rare opportunity to take charge of your own happiness for a change. The message of Embarrass Yourself - how do u feel's parent album - isn't so much that you can control your feelings (and therefore have only yourself to blame if you feel sad) as that you shouldn't let anyone else take responsibility for own sense of fulfilment.

Much of Embarrass Yourself sounds like it was written and recorded while waiting for someone - a friend, a lover, a family member, who knows? - to return from a long absence, and Philippa Zang comes comes across as someone who is sitting in their bedroom and passing the time by composing melancholy songs about the mundane little moments that stand between them and their much-anticipated reunion with that much-missed other person. "It's a long way to the other side of the sun," laments Zang on opening track plane"a year seems way more daunting ever since you've been gone." To make that daunting year go faster, Zang tries to fill the days up by inflating each small experience - making soup on a Monday, finding an earring on the ground, getting a hug from a friend - into something big and poetic, perhaps so that the gap left by the absent person seems smaller by comparison.

Over the course of the album, however, Zang gradually comes to the conclusion that waiting for someone else to come back and bring your happiness to you isn't particularly healthy. The hip-wiggling how u love me baby is kind of a cautionary song about investing too much of yourself in another person; Zang sings "I want to be wanted, I want to be loved...I want to fill you in, I'll be your colour scheme", but in the end, this reliance on somebody else for validation inevitably results in a feeling of dissatisfaction.

"How you love me, baby, isn't quite enough..."

Embarrass Yourself's conviction that you should keep the kite string of your happiness in your own hands is neatly reflected in its DIY aesthetic. Philippa Zang's recordings are endearingly rough and lo-fi, all laptop synths and unembellished electric guitar chords, and these qualities make the songs about missing somebody seem all the more lonely while simultaneously making the songs about being independent and self-caring sound all the more uplifting and cathartic. The final track on Embarrass Yourself is called mattress, and its climax is notably angrier-sounding than any other part of the album - the music speeds up and Zang's singing voice intensifies, eventually becoming the exhausted, over-stretched yell that issues this final 'done with you' declaration of dissatisfaction: "I hate when I'm the only one hurting - I thought it was a two-way street, but clearly not!"

And with that, our protagonist ceases to be someone else's satellite - like a fiery rocket boost, that last cry pushes Zang out of the other person's orbit and into the freedom of open space. So where to now? How do you feel; how do you wish you felt?

Embarrass Yourself is available as a name-your-price digital album or a limited edition cassette from the No Dice Tapes page on Bandcamp.

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