I’ve been listening to Vancouver based Paul Stewart’s EP, Permanence for months now. Actually, it has spent a considerable amount of time in my car stereo during those months, but, today, it quietly speaks volumes to me. There isn’t a bad track on this short five-song collection and each strangely comforts my usually melancholy soul.
I wouldn’t consider Permanence your usual, run-of-the-mill Sad Bastard collection; instead, I personally think of it as a list of “That Poor Bastard” songs. And, Paul honestly describes his music as “Defeatist Folk”, which might seem a bit depressing to some listeners, if not most, but I have always had this uncanny ability to find beauty in the vulnerability created in the dark places of sadness. Though I find this beautiful in other people, I personally try not to show my vulnerability which may be why I find comfort in others expressing it, especially through music.
So, okay, back to this “Defeatist Folk” thing. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, “defeatism” is the “Acceptance of or resignation to the prospect of defeat”; therefore, a defeatist is a person who accepts defeat. I’ve never been one to accept defeat, but in some situations and circumstances it has to be done, and in some twisted way it can be freeing. For instance, the first track “Glass Skull” feels like a song I could have written that is, if I could write songs. Once I make myself vulnerable, my skull usually becomes glass divulging my doubts, feelings and personal thoughts so there is no hiding them because they’ll eventually come out in the end. I relate to the emotion of “Glass Skull” because it describes the frailty I feel in a personal relationship that will more than likely end up shattering my mind and heart. It’s the kind of song I would play while driving off in the sunset running away from the hurt while accepting that there can be freedom after the defeat which can be heard in the ending piano solo.
In “Outpatient”, the disdain and defeat in Paul’s voice can clearly be heard over the stark and sadly picked guitar lines. Yet, this is another song I can relate to. While listening to “Outpatient”, I feel a shared dissatisfaction with life and a touch of mental illness with Paul. I guess at one point in everyone’s life they have felt the same. You may have even questioned your own mental stability too. I don’t know, but there seems to be a small glimmer of hope contained in Paul’s lyrics when he sings, “And I’d free myself from this trap without gnawing off my arms.” However, the hope dims in the line “but, I’m holding these ghostly bars, and it’s still not clear what side I’m on.” I can’t help but think that there is something still holding him back – something that keeps him from experience complete freedom. And, yes, I feel this way too at times. I’m desperately trying to find ways to free myself from this mental prison, but some of my thoughts just won’t allow me the freedom to feel completely happy.
Finally, the last song, “Crowd Cocoon”, is ominous and lonely. I can’t help but think that Paul is trying to explain that after experiencing a profound defeat, the soul dies and a person can withdraw inside of themselves, or, in this case, a “cocoon”. Then, there are others who prefer to surround themselves with people and strangers to hide their dead soul. But, as a damaged Introvert who is sometimes crippled by this personality trait, I tend to shape lyrics such as, “Your soul was left inside of your cocoon. A dead person’s soul inside of you…the crowd just gathers round, it’s hard to place my heart when every stranger plays their part”, to fit my life’s experience. I, with my trust issues and my tendency to withdraw inside of myself when defeated, I will use that time of isolation to come up with a plan, rethink the situation or relationship then realize I can’t keep going down this path or following someone who is causing the pain. Which, again, I have shaped Paul’s words, “And, I can no longer follow you or see your changes through” to fit my situation. I realize that lyrics and these particular lyrics can be shifted and shaped to form each person’s current situation, relationship, or circumstance, and that is what makes music so powerful. Music is an emotional and relatable art form that can be translated and interpreted by individuals to comfort, inspire and reflect. Paul Stewart’s lyrics and music on Permanence are abstract enough to allow the listener to feel and relate to every word and note. He also beautifully creates a glint of hope in the darkness of defeat.