Hot New Joint: "Inner Lover" by Land of Talk

From a coffee shop in Apple Valley, Minnesota, on a March afternoon in 2013, I powered out a short personal essay about the group Land of Talk, and its frontwoman Elizabeth Powell.

That was in the early days of this blog, long before I had a real grasp on what writing a “thinkpiece” was all about. No matter what the quality of the writing is, or was, that didn’t stop people from (somehow) finding the post and commenting on it—thanking me for writing about a band that they, too, loved.

That was four years and 7,000 pageviews ago. Of all the shit I’ve posted on here, a short essay about the then mysterious disappearance of Land of Talk is the most viewed.

After years of silence, Powell resurfaced at Apple Annie’s in Ontario, where she was working at the time, and performed stripped down versions of Land of Talk songs as part of the Roots North Music Festival. She then spent most of 2016 providing vague and cryptic updates via the band’s social media channels.

It was clear that Powell had returned to music, and news of a new album was imminent.

Following a seven year gap, Land of Talk’s third full length, Life After Youth, arrives in May via Saddle Creek; it is preceded by the moody, somber first single, “Inner Lover,” as well as an explanation as to what exactly happened to Powell, and why she chose to come back.

As I had mentioned in my 2013 piece, Powell was not shy about discussing the financial burdens of being an independent touring musician; and as someone who made a living with their voice, she was also not shy about her own health problems from a vocal polyp that had developed.

In between the end of the album/tour cycle for her sophomore album, Cloak and Cipher, in 2011, and the beginning of 2013, on top of what is being referred to as “post-tour fatigue,” demo recordings were lost in a hard drive crash, and her father had a stroke, which caused her to step away from music completely.

During her time away, while caring for her father, she started listening to ambient, as well as Japanese tonkori music, finding both catharsis and comfort in the sounds—leading her to begin writing again, only this time, without the guitar.

Her new influences, as well as the last seven years of life experiences and growth are incredibly apparent on “Inner Lover.” Musically, it is a stark contrast to her earliest work as Land of Talk: the ramshackle brashness from the decade old Applause Cheer Boo Hiss EP is long gone; and it’s even pretty far removed from the more sophisticated and thoughtful, yet still guitar driven Cloak and Cipher.

“Inner Lover,” at its core, is a chilling, pensive, and reflective meditation. Powell has never sounded more fragile as she does here, and that is met with an unsettling urgency in her words. While it is a song that moves slowly—that is a deliberate choice, and within that speed, you’ll find that these are words, and that this is a message, that needed to get out.

The song begins with a low, warm sounding synth bend—that, along with bass note plunks both create a pulse that resonates throughout the entire thing. A shuffling, simple percussive rhythm folds itself in as Powell’s ethereally effected vocals arrive. “Take care of me,” she pleads in the song’s opening line. “Whose side you always on,” then, later in the second verse, “Whose heart you always own.”

Powell has never been super direct in her lyrics, and “Inner Lover” is no different. Using fragmented and evocative imagery, she creates a hypnotic mantra with what becomes the song’s defacto refrain—“You light it slowly/Your light is lonely.”

Given the drastic change in tone and sound, “Inner Lover” is not a return to form for Powell and Land of Talk, however, given how long she’s been away, it is a welcome return.

In 2010, when I saw Land of Talk perform live, Powell was taking suggestions from the audience for her encore. My friend and I both shouted “A Series of Small Flames.” She laughed at us and told us she couldn’t play that song otherwise she’d explode. Seven years later, it’s clear that, to some extent, Powell did explode, but the arrival of Life After Youth signifies that she could put herself back together.