Healing is not linear. It doesn’t come in a specific shape or form and it happens differently for everyone. Santa Barbara-based noir pop artist Alexandra Riorden knows this, and harnesses her own experience with darkness and healing in her new single “Dirty Mirror.” The title itself brings to mind the lack of clarity and blurred reality that can come in the wake of trauma while dramatic strings, starry guitars and Riordan’s smoky vocals tell a story of pain, reflection and healing.
Riorden explains that she wrote this song – and all of the songs off her debut LP, Angel City Radio, out June 25 – in a state of delayed processing. After experiencing a home break-in while living in Los Angeles, she says that she lived in a state of heightened alert and mistrust for years, without really realizing what was happening. “Since everything is so fast paced out there, I didn’t really feel like I had room to process such a tremendous trauma,” says Riorden. “So, a year and a half or two down the line, I started not doing well so I had to just step away.” She made the move to Santa Barbara and started writing.
What ensued were dark vignettes of past wounds, bubbling to the surface and slowly healing. “Dirty Mirror” explores the complexity of being in a relationship that’s built on a flimsy foundation and the surreality of watching it crumble. “I was reflecting on how difficult it is to be in a relationship with someone when you’re both kind of not solid in yourself,” says Riorden. “Everyone’s a mirror to you, so if you’re looking in a mirror and getting a hazy reflection… things get twisted easily.”
There’s a rawness in Riorden’s voice that feels especially vulnerable. She explains that when recording this song, she had lost her voice at a show the night before and had to get the vocals done in one take. The emotion and honesty is palpable. “It felt very direct for me, like from the pages of my journal to singing it,” she says. Phrases like “I gave you the key/You gave me the reason to leave,” feel like late night scribbles coming to life from the page, releasing her from the resentment that they held. Similarly, her vibrato reverberates like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, letting the pain and heartbreak flow out of her and dissolve into the universe.
But, while Riorden lets us into the dark cracks of her mind, she doesn’t allow us to dwell there for long. “I never like to leave a song in a space of suffering,” she explains. “For me, the process of writing a song is like climbing a ladder out of this dark place.” After a few minutes of painting her story in black and ruby hues, Riorden offers listeners a white light of hope to reflect on: “Is it a king who gives you wings? Apparently only when he leaves/There is no one looking out for me/I have never felt so free/Ironically.” Finding safety and inspiration in her newfound freedom, Riorden fills the cracks left by her lover with sparkling rivers of hope and catharsis.
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