Album Review: Orion Sun - Hold Space for Me
As an internet music writer, occasionally I get what I commonly refer to as ‘fan mail.’
In the early days of Anhedonic Headphones, it was usually anonymous commenters who happened to find a, perhaps, less than glowing review of an album or artist they adored, and they felt the need to tell me what a terrible writer I was; or in some cases, it was the intentionally incendiary pieces I wrote about Eminem, to which I was on the receiving end of both death threats and homophobic slurs on Twitter.
At some point, maybe within the first year or two, the site had caught a small enough amount of attention to attract both very independent, small-time artists who wanted me to review their album (in a number of cases, I did this, and found it hard to say nice things), or PR people who really wanted me to give a specific artist coverage.
Once I became too depressed to write reviews of things I literally had no interest in writing about, let alone listen to, I put a ‘submission policy’ on the site that, to my knowledge, nobody actually read.
Occasionally I get what I commonly refer to as ‘fan mail’—and sometimes it is somebody who finds the piece I wrote about Damien Rice’s O turning a decade old (from first year of the site) and they chide me for not giving more time to his follow up records; or it’s someone who finds the essay (also from the first year) I wrote about a moderately obscure David Crosby and Phil Collins single from 1993—people really seem to like this piece, or at least are happy that somebody else remembers the song that they also have a connection to.
A number of months ago, a presumably loyal reader named Mark reached out to me via the site’s Facebook page, and both told me how much he liked the piece I had put together about Means to Me, the Long Beard record from the fall of 2019, and passed along a suggestion of something to listen to at the very least, adding that it was better than the Pitchfork review had implied.
I was almost instantly taken with Hold Space for Me, the debut full length from Orion Sun, and the more time I sat with it, the more I came to enjoy it, and since originally being pointed in its direction months ago, I had every intention of sitting down and putting together a review. However, despite how effortless I make this all look, and despite how a few of my friends who occasionally read my stuff but at least see me promoting on social media seem to think that I am ‘prolific’ as a writer, I don’t consider myself to be prolific, and this is anything but effortless. Writing is hard, whether it’s about music or something else; and writing is hard, when you are so fucking depressed.
For every album review, or verbose thinkpiece I write, there are a handful of albums or things I intend to write about, but they just keep getting shuffled down the list as something else slightly more ‘timely’ comes along. It’s not intended to devalue the artist or their work; it’s simply just tough to keep up with new music with the pace that I work, and the, like, ‘real’ job I have outside of this.
Is it timely, as June comes to a close, to be writing about a record that was released (digitally) at the end of March?
Hailing from Philadelphia, and still in her very early 20s, Tiffany Majette has been performing and releasing music under the moniker Orion Sun for the last four years years, with her earliest singles, such as “Sweetest Thing, “Journal Entry,” and “So Tall From Down Here,” as well as her debut mixtape A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams, all available to stream in places like Spotify or on Soundcloud—the latter of which has a much larger collection of her oldest, home recorded, and still being developed material. Dubbed Majette’s debut album, Hold Space For Me is a culmination of her work and growth over the last handful of years as a singer and songwriter, as well as the influences she proudly wears on her sleeve: elements of jazz, R&B, sad and restrained contemporary pop, and hip-hop, all course throughout the record seamlessly, creating an invigorating, interesting blend of music that owes a lot to its predecessors, yet, but is also wholly original as well.
And even as Hold Space For Me continually shuffles through its aesthetic during its very brief running time (33 minutes is, truthfully, way too short for a record this good, the themes that resonate the loudest, or at least recur are ones of sadness, and ones of longing—both of which are very, very palpable from the moment the record begins.
At the tail end of 2019, my friend Andrea was writing a piece detailing her tumultuous year, and how a lot of music (both older and brand new) had helped her through; to accompany the essay, which we had agreed would be a ‘guest post’ on Anhedonic Headphones, she had curated a mixtape of the songs she felt a specific connection to. When she was working on what to say, and how to say it, she had gotten stuck on how to describe Lizzo—the album ‘Cuz I Love You, as well as the now iconic single “Truth Hurts,” had a huge impact on her (and, eventually, on me as well.) I had gotten a late in the evening text from her, asking for assistance with how to put into words what Lizzo does, musically, and without much difficulty on my part, I responded by saying I’d describe it as ‘effortlessly gliding between pop, rap, and R&B.’
There is, overall, a reserved quality to the way Hold Space for Me sounds—it’s not minimalistic by any means, and it’s not lo-fi either; but Majette shows restraint in her arrangements, and right out of the gate, you can see it on the album’s stuttering and smooth first track, “Lightening,” which skips along with a hip hop infused groove, a warm synth undertone with jazzy bursts of piano and guitar, while Majette absolutely effortlessly lets her vocals glide over the top of it all, blurring any distinctions between ‘rapping’ and ‘singing’—delivering her words pointedly, on the beat, with a wounded yet soulful tone in her voice.
“Lightning struck the house that we used to live in,” she begins. “It ain’t a home no more—just a property building with new tenants”; then, later in the song’s second verse, she exclaims, “Oh shit! Looks like we back at the beginning. Looks like we haven’t moved at all—I thought you’d catch me when I fall. Looks like I’m wrong,” all before asking the rhetorical question that she returns to throughout, never finding an answer—“What’s going on?”
That sense of visceral longing, though less confused and more heartbroken, continues on the slow burning, sweeping R&B vibes of “Trying,” which features one of the album’s most devastating and honest lines: “I hate it here without you.”
As Hold Space for Me unfolds, Majette continues to explore the places where love, longing, and loss overlap, but she also begins to work larger themes into the context of the album—specifically the idea of her spirituality, which she works into trying, “I pray to God, wherever he reside, if loving her is alright, I love her with all my might,” and on “Grim Reaper,” which arrives near the end of the album’s first side, “Where do you go when your soul leaves the physical? I want to know,” she asks, before dipping into another strong, poignant hip-hop aesthetic, allowing her vocal delivery and cadence to get absolutely caught up in the song’s pulsing groove.
In her very tepid review of Hold Space for Me, Pitchfork contributor Dani Blum chided Majette’s lyricism when she slides more into the hip-hop side of things, writing it off as ‘corny.’ Corny? No. Unexpected? Very. For an album that spends its first half deep in its feelings, opening the second half with the jazzy, self-aware “El Camino” comes as a surprise, as does its wildly clever lyrics: “I feel like A$AP Rocky—bitches on my jockey,” she deadpans in the song’s opening line. Then as it continues, “Money make you go from College Dropout to Yanhdi.” And if that still weren’t clever enough, or sly enough, shortly after that, she adds, “Strong like Serena but my Venus is in Pieces.”
For an album that is, overall, pretty serious in its nature, or at least very pensive and reflective in the way it comes off, a brief respite of fun is welcome, before it turns itself inward again for a bulk of the second half, finding Majette returning partially to somber and plaintive guitar arrangements, similar to some of the earliest tracks found on her Soundcloud page, though much more developed through the addition of production flourishes and drum machine breaks eventually filing in, like on the swooning, desperate slow dance “Smooth,” which is, by far, one of the best and possibly most emotional songs on Hold Space for Me, finding Majette in awe of the object of her affection: “You’re smooth like “Smooth Criminal,” she sings. “You’re smooth like ‘how’d you get in here?’”
There’s a sweetness, even as cloying as it may come across, too, in “Smooth,” in the song’s refrain: “Like cops and robbers, they’re tryna find us. But they’ll never find us.”
“Coffee For Dinner,” one of the album’s early singles, is another song that is arranged similarly to Majette’s earlier, self-recorded work. It’s also one of the album’s most evocative lyrically, painting a self-deprecating portrait of longing. “Slept in your bed when I had no place to go,” she begins. “This is a dream–I don’t plan on letting go.” But it is the song’s refrain, though, that hits the hardest—“Hope you remember that late night in winter: you saw a winner when I felt like a loser. Coffee for dinner kept me warm in the cold.”
Hold Space for Me concludes with a double shot that reflects the amalgamation of aesthetics Majette manages to blend together throughout the record—“Sailing” begins with a stark, absolutely gorgeous introduction of her voice, layered and smooth, set against a clean sounding electric guitar strum, before giving way to what seems like a totally different song all together (it’s the same song, just the second part); from there, it wastes no time settling into a strong, slightly blunted, head nodding groove, while Majette switches gears and begins absolutely spitting bars over the top of it. And the album’s final track, “Birds Gave Up,” doesn’t so much serve an epilogue or an afterward to Hold Space for Me, but it is probably the album’s sparest in arrangement—destined to be a closing track—and lyrically, it returns to some of the themes that have been explored in the 10 songs prior. It is the song where Majette finds herself the most enthralled, in love, and possibly at peace for the time being: “All these distractions keep me from hanging out. No, I don’t feel I could ever be myself around them,” she sings. “But when you’re around me, I feel like I could do all things…And I never knew love was something I dreamed of so much.”
Hold Space for Me is the kind of album that stuns with amount of intelligence and maturation it has, and on it, Majette takes the listener through the juxtaposition of her darkness as well as moments of hope, and all of the places in-between where those two things become blurred together. Captivating from beginning to end, it is a refreshing listen simply due to the way you can opt to either get lost in the slow burning grooves from the arranging, or the thought provoking, often confessional lyrics.
Released at the end of March, the May tour in support of Hold Space for Me was postponed because of dat rona; in the interim, Majette has remained busy hosting virtual “Beat Battle” tournaments online and posting short videos of herself performing on Instagram. She also, just recently, released a brand new song, though the circumstances around its release are incredibly unfortunate.
Like so many others across the country, Majette participated in a protest against police brutality in Philadelphia; and like so many others, her participation in a protest was met with an unnecessarily violent reaction from the police. On her Bandcamp page, in the liner notes for the new single, “Mama’s Baby,” Majette details the harrowing experience of being thrown to the ground, her arm twisted behind her back. She details her physical and emotional pain the wake of her encounter, and how, after enough time had passed, she said the song ‘bled’ out of her, and after she recorded it, it was the first time her anxiety had subsided since her unjust attack.
“Why are people numb to the death of my people?,” she asks in her lengthy message explaining the genesis of the song.
Set against a somber progression of electric piano and a superimposed vinyl crackle in the background, “Mama’s Baby,” is, as you’d expect, fucking dark; it’s darker than anything on Hold Space for Me, and as it rightfully should be. And it’s a reflection of both the times we are living in, as well as a time for Majette to reflect on her horrific encounter, as well as her own lifetime of thoughts on race. “Crazy—that’s mama’s baby. She brought me in this world; white world against me,” she sings, sadly, but strongly, in the song’s opening line.
The track itself is set at $1, and the proceeds go directly toward Breonna Taylor’s GoFundMe.