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“I’m aching to see you again / mistaken, beginning inside of the end,” Meg Duffy sings at the start of “Something Wrong,” the first song on their six-track new release, Sugar the Bruise. Everything that forms will un-form. Everything that comes together will disperse. Everything that lives will die. Every moment is over as it passes. Every end contains a beginning. Sugar the Bruise, out from Fat Possum Records on June 16, doesn’t shy away from these truths. It dives into the heart of them.
In August 2021, nearly 2 years before Sugar the Bruise’s creation, Duffy taught a month-long songwriting class through School of Sound. They created a container for both new and experienced songwriters, designing prompts to help participants play with new approaches and forms. They re-discovered, with newfound clarity, the generative capacity of embracing the unknown, and how essential collaboration and improvisation are for accessing the indescribable.
After three beloved, meticulously written albums – 2017’s Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void), 2019’s Placeholder, and 2021’s Fun House – Duffy offered themself up for a 10-day writing trip. Working alongside Luke Temple (Here We Go Magic, Art Feynman) and in the final hours Philip Weinrobe (Adrienne Lenker, Cass McCombs, Lonnie Holly), at Panoramic Studios in Stinson Beach, CA, Duffy surrendered to the present moment, trusting that whatever sounds and words emerged were meant to emerge. With additional production, engineering and arranging from Jeremy Harris, Duffy created something which, in their words, “Turned out nothing like I’d imagined it would.”
The result of this collective experiment, born equally from play and intention, is a radical gift for listeners: proof that our most vital processes, creation and destruction, are exquisitely entangled. The unanswerable and untenable suffering of experience is the fact of perpetual loss. And, yet, there is precious, vivid magic created by this condition. In Sugar the Bruise, grief folds in on itself and becomes laughter; language fades away into sonic expanses of the inexpressible; melodies melt into cacophonies; love songs surrender to loss; historic violence is supplanted by the disks of sunlight.
Duffy, of course, is no stranger to the magic of collective music-making. They have collaborated with heavy-hitters as wide-ranging as Angel Olsen, Emile Mosseri, Perfume Genius, SASAMI, Sylvan Esso, and Weyes Blood. They have inflected each of these collaborations with what The New Yorker has called their “masterly sense of melody” and Pitchfork has described as their “virtuosic talent,” to name but some of the hyperbolic praise they’ve garnered over the course of their career (see other examples in Rolling Stone and The Fader, to name just a few more).
Duffy’s devout fans will recognize their signature intimacy, artistry, and technical expertise in Sugar the Bruise. But they will also encounter an artist questioning what it means to be in control. Do we write songs or do songs write us? The same could be asked of poems, of books, of whole lives. All artists realize sooner or later that choice is elusive, will is illusory. We grasp for certainty, we write towards resolution, only to learn again and again that as soon as we think we’ve arrived, these destinations prove themselves to be mirages. This lesson holds for all people, too. And, yet, we laugh along the way, we fall in love, we make meaning, and we play. Sugar the Bruise is your companion in the void, your friend at the end, a reminder that, in the immediacy of loss, something beautiful has already begun.