About a year ago, the Norwegian indie electronic duo Lemaitre (from french: the master) released a collaboration with one of my favorite glitch/dream pop artists of this past year, Giraffage. Giraffage (nee Charlie Yin), called Nishio 2. Throughout 2016 this song wormed its way into my consciousness in several, week-long intervals, eventually becoming one of my most listened to tracks of the year. The recent turn of the year has given me a chance to look back on this eventful year. The past year has been at once a successful, joyful, deeply upsetting, and depressing one. Perhaps then, it is fitting that this track featured so heavily. (Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?)
The track starts off with a light scale resembling chimes or bells, and is quickly supported by a low synth drum which lends it a beaty vibe popular in several genres of electronic music in the past few years. The overall vibe of the song is very reminiscent of Giraffage’s recent collaborations with artists like Slow Magic, ethereal, dreamy, and ambient in a way that refuses to be ambiance. We soon hear a female vocalist sing some of the only lyrics to the song “I’m so happy”. In a standard glitch style, samples of these vocals repeat as though skipping or glitching.
Lots of electronic music uses the device of repetition, and while it can be indicative of a lack of creativity or simply used to force something to be catchy for radio play, it does have its place as an artistic tool. I encounter this issue often when discussing or reviewing gospel music. Despite being near the opposite end of the musical spectrum, gospel too has from early on understood the importance and the grandeur in simplicity that comes with repeating a line over and over. If the artist and the performers are talented enough, each time the line is repeated, new emotions and thoughts can be brought forward in an attentive audience (us, the listeners!).
However, while the overall lyrics of Nishio 2 do repeat, the first half “I’m so happy” repeats only once before the second half of the lyrics are added “I’m so happy I never met you. Our time together would be too short and sad.” After this second half of the lyrics comes in, the female vocals are slowly distorted, and it sounds almost like a children’s chorus is singing behind her. Then, at the 2:14 mark the lyrics are repeated again, but the woman’s voice is bent into a higher tone, which sounds to me like a younger girl’s voice before the track goes quiet for a second. The music comes back in suddenly with a burst of the joyful melody, which throughout the track juxtaposes with the rather sad lyrics in a melancholy song which can be at times emotionally unsettling.
My favorite part about the bare-bones lyrics is how open it leaves the song for interpretation and for reliability or at least sympathy. Is the woman dying too young and singing to the soul mate she never had? Is she singing to a star-crossed lover and using “met” as a proxy for getting to know someone deeply? When I first heard the song it broke my heart. Although I have never lost a child, it immediately made me think of a couple who have lost a complicated pregnancy to miscarriage. The woman is happy that her child didn’t have to live a life of suffering from perhaps some serious birth defect, but she is also selfishly joyful because the pain of knowing her child before he/she inevitably died would have been even greater. Further evidence for this interpretation comes in near the end of the song. I spoke earlier about the bending of the woman’s voice to make it sound higher, like a little girl’s. Later in the song, the lyrics are distorted several times throughout the same phrase. The “so happy” sounds like the voice of a young boy, the “never met” and “time together” sounds like a young girl, and the “you” drops down into a deeper sounding male voice (perhaps the father). The rest of the lyrics in the phrase seem to return to the normal female voice. This may, in a devastating sense, represent the couple’s dreams of a family they could have had. To this listener, Nishio 2 is a beautiful and emotional song about losing a child, but taken at face value, I think it represents the beauty in losing something, which is a difficult concept to grapple with.
Listen to the track below.