Is it wrong to feel comforted by someone else’s tales of pain? Taylor Vick, the Oakland-based singer/songwriter also known as Boy Scouts, has said her new album, Free Company, is a breakup record. Yet, it ripples out in ribbons of something like musical lotion, all creamy and ready to revive your ashy, cracked heart.
“Can you heal from what you don’t see?” Vick asks on “Get Well Soon,” the album’s first single, opener and stand-out. “Can you still feel what you don’t see as truthful or real?”
Those two questions open a whole can of squiggly worms hell-bent on causing you great emotional distress. For those who’ve experienced trauma, you’ve wrestled with the former for ages. The second is more difficult to grasp. Vick poses both to some unnamed subject, a mysterious “you,” as she does frequently throughout this record, her first for ANTI-. Perhaps she’s even writing about herself in the second person as the woman who underwent the heartbreak and pain she sings about so tenderly. But it’s easiest to imagine the “you” as you, or me, the listener. Vick isn’t just sharing her own experiences for the sake of it. It’s her way of empathizing with her audience. Free Company is a short listen at nine songs in 33 minutes, but it’s heavy on big ideas, warmth and wisdom.
Vick sounds like a familiar friend more often than not. She’s the encouraging pal on “In Ya Too,” assuring a mate, “I know it’s in you, too.” She’s the defensive friend (admit it—you’ve been her before) who might very well be in pain on “All Right,” a relaxed rocker that buzzes with just a touch of psychedelia. “I’m all right, I swear,” she sings. “I’m all right, how dare you?”
On “Throw Away Love,” she’s the friend who’s not afraid to dish out some tough love (to herself, too): “Now can’t you see how you tripped over your own two feet?” But this time she’s more clearly memorializing an ex-lover (and everything she lost along with them), singing, “Your friends, I thought they were mine too / Turned out they left along with you / Now I’m a living example of throw away love.” In much the same way fellow California rockers Dawes do in their songs (namely breakup treaty “Roll With The Punches”), Vick bemoans the wreckage caused by a separation, the stuff that gets left behind. There’s the loss of a romantic relationship, but there are also minefields everywhere you look—a sweatshirt or a record—and the business of dealing with a failed partnership. As Jason Isbell once wrote, “Lovers leave chaos and clothes / In quiet corners where you rarely ever go.” But they usually take their friends.
The most obvious breakup tear-jerker on Free Company is “You Were Once,” a brushed-drum sleeper that belongs on a playlist with Julia Jacklin’s “Pressure To Party” (and/or just about any song on Crushing, this album’s spiritual equal). “When they ask you if they miss her / Have you already thought of an adequate answer?” Vick crows. There she goes again, considering the tiny details of a breakup. Like Jacklin, she’s singing not only about heartache, but also about the little annoyances that follow a split (like explaining it to your friends). But ultimately, the irritations are just a distraction from the real pain, which is that of someone who feels sad and alone. “Once in a while I would like to see you smile,” Vick sings. “But your number’s hard to dial / At the end of free trial.”
Free Company has no real discernable flaws, other than failing to stand out among the rush of honest indie-folk and rock records we’ve been blessed with over the last few years. It’s an album about friendship, relationships and healing from heartbreak, themes we’ll be singing about until the end of time. What makes this album different are Vick’s lyrics, which are somehow both poetic and unclouded by superfluous language. She sings what she feels, and by the end of Free Company, you just might feel better.