‘Downhill Lullaby’: The Ghostly Return of Sky Ferreira
“The first song isn’t a pop song…because I really want to make a video for it (& I love it). I’m confident about all of the pop songs on my record so I decided to start with something different,” Sky Ferreira wrote earlier in March.
Consider yourselves warned.
The fullest of disclosures: I’ve been writing about, and wholeheartedly stanning, Sky Ferreira for roughly a decade. I’ve hid under tables in conference rooms during financial marketing internships to interview her on speakerphone. I’ve commuted into the city and back to see her perform at showcases well before I was living on my own. “Everything Is Embarrassing” was my favorite song of 2012, and remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Night Time, My Time was my favorite album of 2013. I helped to confirm the title of her eternally delayed second studio album, Masochism, in 2015. She seems to like me. I really like her. I say all this to say: I’m biased as fuck, and I don’t think I’m ever going to not like what she does.
“Downhill Lullaby,” released on Wednesday (March 27), is the long, long, long awaited return of Sky, after a seemingly endless series of delays and setbacks since 2014, through vast stretches of time when it felt like it might just not ever happen again.
But it did. It’s here. And it is, indeed, not a pop song.
Instead, Sky’s swerved, as Britney would say, even further into the artsy-fartsy lane, opting to supply #SomethingMoreCinematic.
It’s all things ghostly and moody and gothic, diving even deeper into the Night Time, filled with haunting strings and eerie vocals, at times recalling the rawness of Fiona Apple and the densest spaces of Lana Del Rey‘s Ultraviolence – and, of course, all things David Lynch. (“I walked with the fire” – a Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me reference, perhaps?)
That’s what I hear, anyway. And then there’s a bunch of musical influences that I’ve admittedly never heard of and can’t speak to: “Here’s what I actually based it off of: George Antheil, Krzysztof Penderecki, Mica Levi & John Cale,” she clarified on Twitter on the day of release.
If it sounds like Sky’s drowning on the track, there’s reason: the inspiration is watery – lakes, specifically.
“Lakes kind of terrify me…in a lake, by yourself, you look at the bottom and it’s murky and still and you can’t really see anything or feel anything—and if you do, it’s fucking terrifying. It always feels like something will grab you and pull you under,” she told Pitchfork.
She also compared the process of creating the increasingly chaotic track to Fantasia: “You know how all the brooms are making a gigantic mess and the water starts rising and rising and rising and rising? It was sort of like that: Magical, but at the same time, ‘What is going on?’ And then cleaning it all up.”
Is “Downhill Lullaby” a single? Not in the traditional sense. Cannot say it’s a “bop,” no. Won’t be played on radio! It is undeniably a bold choice for a first taste of new, non-feature, non-cover Sky Ferreira music in six years, for sure. And while the production is really gorgeous and intricately crafted (she detailed her maddeningly long approval process for songs in that Pitchfork profile, and it shows), the song plays more like a soundtrack offering than a standalone serving. There will undeniably be some backlash for opting to take the obtuse route after all these years.
But then, there’s still Something About Sky that draws me in, even when she’s at her most abstract and un-singalong-able.
“Downhill Lullaby” is an intriguing way to begin. I like that she’s setting the tone of this record, on her own terms. And besides, she’s promised “more poppy” things to come on Mashochism in that same Pitchfork interview: “It’s very big, but also very violent…but not all the songs are super-dark.”
I’ve waited this long. I can wait even longer for the “more poppy” stuff to surface. I suppose that’s the masochist in me.
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“Downhill Lullaby” was released on March 27. (iTunes)
Photo credit: Capitol Records