March 20, 2017

EP: Slow Ref - Bow

Slow Ref offers up a refreshing pair of love songs.

Slow Ref, aka the pop project of New York’s Meg McCauley, likes to place simple-yet-intricate vignettes within the time frame of reality. Her last batch of songs, released at the end of last year, was appropriately titled Songs From 2016. The music she writes reads like nonfiction—firmly rooted in a time and place, which grounds them and gives them an extra weight. One could imagine, for example, the real McCauley in some room, watching some band and thinking, as the lyrics of her song “Going to the Show” go, “I feel heavy / I smell like a hot dog / I wish I was the king of rock and roll.” Her new EP, bow, was released this past February 14th. It would be easy to roll your eyes at this fact—the pantheon of gooey songs that promote cliche notions of love doesn’t necessarily need more submissions. But to listen to these two songs—billed as “a pair of love songs”—isn't following Slow Ref through old platitudes. Instead, in her own understated way, McCauley manages to say something refreshing about love and friendship.

Opener “Writing a song with you in your house” brings to mind the Frank O’Hara’s essay “Personism,” specifically the belief that art should be between “two persons instead of two pages.” A similar sentiment is at play here—the song’s title immediately brings the listener into the world of the two people writing the song (who also happen to be the main characters). A snapshot of the scene unfolds slowly and vividly, with McCauley singing about the day’s small details: “We’re sitting outside making a stick house for a bug, grass on your butt, gimme a hug.” The contrast between the innocence of these events—one imagines a lazy weekend afternoon, with no plans or expectations—and the weight McCauley gives to details draws us into the intimacy of the moment, as if we, too, were enjoying this sunny day, a warm feeling washing over us. She calls the day a “waste of time,” but it’s clear that it's one that she cherishes, one that gives her a “happy, peppy burst of pride.” The sound is breezy, dancey, almost tropical; it evokes the feeling of staying inside on a rainy day, daydreaming about sun and grass. McCauley’s meandering, layered guitar and bass lines give the song a lushness that belies its bedroom-quality recording—just like the EP’s Microsoft Paint-drawn cover, the sound is deceivingly effortless. The ten-second burst of drums near the end of the song gives the “happy, peppy burst of pride” a momentary, and welcome, musical accompaniment.

The melody of the second track, “A Present from Honey,” reminds me a bit of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but whereas John Denver's nostalgia was pointed toward grand scenes of mountain majesties, Slow Ref's idea of a fond memory is much more rooted in suburban backyards. McCauley drops a great line here: “The way I love you is like the way that I thought it would be when I thought about how it would be.” The understatement of the lyric underscores its poignancy—in not reaching for a tired metaphor or tenuous comparison, and instead by simply stating a true and real thought, McCauley draws us toward her own reality. Apart from these songs here, I’m not sure what McCauley personally thinks of the quintessential Hallmark holiday. But for those of us that treat Valentine’s Day with more than a little skepticism, Slow Ref has given us a note that the intimacy of love and friendship requires no pageantry or candlelit dinners. These songs, then, are a kind gift: a reminder that sharing small moments can foster memories that last longer than any carefully arranged bouquet.


Listen to Slow Ref on bandcamp.

Jeff Sadueste, who has ten books on his to-read list but zero in his backpack. You can find him at the show trying to hold off going to the bathroom as long as possible or on Twitter at @Saddaddydueste.