“In a little while, there’ll be nothing left for me to unpack,” sings San Francisco’s Maggie Gently on her new EP, Good Cry. Created during the various phases of a friendship dissolution, Gently isn’t trying to convince others that closure is imminent, so much as she’s trying to convince herself, as she works her way through the EP’s five tracks.
In many ways, the EP feels less like five distinct songs and more like a long, rambling letter. This isn’t inherently an issue — I’ve readily expressed my appreciation for concept/single-subject works before — but it does make the best tracks stand out all the more clearly, while pushing the others further into the background.
The lyrics are quite vague — perhaps purposefully so — to the point that you would likely assume Gently was speaking about a former partner as opposed to to a friend. It has been repeated many times over that friendship breakups can be as painful as romantic ones, but such statements are frequently delivered with a sly question mark at the end. Is it really true? Can someone who never called you their romantic partner enact the same hurt as someone who did?
Of course they can, but that voice of doubt is more likely to come from within ourselves as opposed to outside doubters, fueled by the unfortunate concept that any soul-deep pain that doesn’t involve a significant other is not deserving of any real attention.
Why can’t you just get over it?
Gently, in this EP, does not seem to want to, but has taken her wallowing and turned it into something tangible, maybe even cathartic — good advice if I’ve ever heard it. “I always said it would all be worth it/if I could matter to just one person,” Gently sings on EP opener “Every Night,” offering one of the best and most profound examples of Good Cry’s straightforward lyrical style. “Run Away” gives us a bit of a respite from the indie-pop ease of the other tracks, with a folky intro where Gently lets her voice go soft as she sings, “When I wake up I check my breathing/I know that I’m ok without you.” About halfway through, the song makes a jump to rock, even as Gently keeps her voice largely even. While I wish she would really let loose on moments like this, the guitar backing is expressive enough to keep the emotions feeling big. “I used to have so much/and now I’ve got none/and I’m hungry,” she sings on “Normal,” one of those EP’s best tracks and, tellingly, one of the few with a distinct glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.
Occasionally, Gently sacrifices meaning for simplicity, like on EP closer, “Tranquility,” where she asks, “I don’t know if I deserve to feel any better, but I’ll still get serious/Take a look at my resume and cover letter — do I have any experience?” The first minute of the song sounds like it would fit nicely over a montage scene in a mid-2000s rom com a lá 13 Going on 30 (another work that, fundamentally, is about friendship), with a mid-tempo rhythm that sets the listener up nicely for a high-energy finish. It never arrives – not exactly – as Gently leads us out on an unrealized wish: “I wish I’d take a break/from circling round inside of my head again.” It’s so telling that she ends on that word, again. Gently knows it’s not over, at least not in her head — so here we go, repeat button, repeat album, repeat brain.
Despite the fact that Gently never makes the nature of the central relationship explicit in the lyrics, it feels like a disservice to suggest that this EP should be used as universal catharsis for someone in the throes of relational loss. While in other circumstances I would be the first person to say that art is interpretive, blah blah blah, I feel like the context here is essential. It comes down to this: the more accepting we are of the impact of non-romantic friendships on our self-perception, the closer we will get to dissolving those question marks we assign to our own pain — and the closer we will get to burning that letter.
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