The Ecstatic Catharsis of “Staring Into Heaven/Shining” by Sour Widows

Sour Widows is one of my favorite bands.

When I first heard them on my local college radio station several years ago, I was immediately captivated by their mix of delicate harmonies, lush guitars, and deft and driving rhythms. Grunge, folk, shoegaze, indie rock – they seamlessly integrate these different elements into a coherent whole that pulsates with life, tenderness, and a no-bullshit attitude.

Their music is passionate and personal, yet skillful and precise. It’s the kind of music you can get lost in, dreamy, yet at the same time occasionally exploding into a sonorous cacophony that releases some inner fury you didn’t know you had.

This is real music, made by real people, expressing real emotions.

Their latest single, “Staring Into Heaven/Shining,” is a cathartic 8-minute journey through grief, written by co-frontwoman Susanna Thomson after the death of her mother from a rare form of cancer. The song comes in pieces, vignettes that hint at varied attempts to make sense of such a great and unexpected loss.

The song reaches a climax a few minutes in, with some of the most direct and heartrending lyrics in modern indie rock:

If all my anger
And my pain
Could catch like a flame
And purify
And cremate
Maybe I could be alive
Know that you’re safe
And you feel me
We communicate
Beyond God, beyond doubt

Later in the song, Thomson recalls an almost unbearably poignant moment lying next to her mother on her deathbed, where a momentary feeling of peace is interrupted by morning light and songbirds, and she realizes she is “losing it all.” At this point, the guitars take over, and for the final three minutes of the song, the interplay of Thomson and bandmate Maia Sinaiko’s raw, yet elegant guitar riffs fill in an emotional space that can’t be resolved with words.

In a statement about the song, Thomson wrote: “It wasn’t until after finishing the song that I realized there can be hope in accepting that there are things we cannot know about death.”

The unrushed, unvarnished instrumental ending feels like an homage, an elegy, and an emotional release all at once. At the same time, it’s a testament to the longtime bandmates and friends’ synergistic artistry and ability to make something coherent out of something unfathomable. Having seen them perform live, I can say they are the real deal: musicians and songwriters that hold nothing back, using all their technical and emotional ability to communicate the essence of their songs. Here the essence seems to be the power of simply witnessing pain, whether one’s own or another’s.

Thomson writes, “As I tried and failed to reconcile feelings of regret and unanswerable questions, it became clearer to me that all I can do is choose to simply observe the experience of grief.” In sharing this deeply personal song, Thomson gives the listener the opportunity to simply observe the outpouring of grief: at times volcanic, at times laconic.

In a world of pretense and artificiality, this realness feels like a rare gift.

The post The Ecstatic Catharsis of “Staring Into Heaven/Shining” by Sour Widows appeared first on Two Story Melody.

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